WICHE: Cool season weeds waiting in the wings

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Time to take some steps to keep those weeds from popping up and staying there.

By Jeneen Wiche

If you are one of those who complain about weeds like it’s the end of the world, then take note: The most common, cool-season annual and perennial weeds will be germinating any day now.

The obvious: They are easy to control if you just bend over and pull them up; walk around the garden with a cultivator in hand, scratching up a patch here and there; spot treat them with boiling water in order to scald the foliage and roots; or use a conventional herbicide to easily knock them out while they are still young and tender.

The point is they are easier to control if you clean them up now.

Chickweedis usually found in moist, shady spots.It is almost rubbery in texture when you pull it.Be especially careful if chickweed has already flowered and gone to seed, because when you touch it, the seed releases like popcorn. Control chickweed during active growth by pulling or using a herbicide.In problem spots follow up with a pre-emergent in the fall to prevent seed germination once cool weather returns. Seeds germinate from late fall to early spring so another application of a pre-emergent in the early spring is a good idea if you struggle with chickweed.

Wild violetscan quickly become a hard to manage perennial problem despite their sweet heart-shaped foliage and the pansy-like flowers.The sinister thing about violets is that they almost spontaneously fling their seed far and wide while sending their roots in all directions!The dense, fibrous roots are steadfast and break away from the plant if you try to pull them by hand.Instead use a trowel (after a good rain) to lift them out of cultivated areas.If you can’t dig them as soon as you see them, pinch off the flowers so they won’t go to seed.

In the lawn violets often become widespread.They do not respond to most broadleaf weed controls that are safe to use on turf grasses.The product Confront is recommended for controlling violets, and it proves quite effective.Carefully spot treat your lawn where violets are present.Violets are a cool-season perennial, so they are most actively growing in the spring and fall, therefore treatments will be most effective at these times.

Like the violet, you want to dig up wild onion and wild garlic as soon as you see them.Both are hard to control because they spread by seed and by bulbs underground.There are some chemical controls that claim to kill wild onion and garlic, but the problem is that liquid controls do not stick and are not absorbed well by the waxy foliage.Dig deep to remove them from cultivated areas.In the lawn, persistent spot treatment for several years will be necessary as the bulbs sprout at different times as they mature.

Ground ivy, or creeping Charlie, is a perennial that reproduces by seed and underground stems.These stems, and the areas that ground ivy grows, are what makes this weed hard to control.Total kill herbicides and broadleaf controls are usually out of the question because the ivy grows among desirable plants.Pulling the weed is tricky because the stem anchors itself along the ground with roots.These will regrow if any are left behind.

I have successfully reduced a problem area where ground ivy was taking over by carefully pulling up the stems after rainfalls.Just be persistent with careful hand pulling, especially in the spring and fall because it is a cool season perennial and most actively grows at this time.

Most broadleaf weed controls are effective on red and white clover,which is good news because I have not found a better way of getting rid of this perennial weed.Clover proves tenacious and reproduces by seed and roots (which are deep and break off easily, making pulling and digging tricky).Treatments are most effective in early spring and fall, when plants are young and more actively growing.Expect to retreat problem areas.

Clover seed can last up to 20 years in the soil, so don’t let this one reseed if you can avoid it. But my real advice, as you would suspect, is to not worry about it at all.

Weeds are only problematic because we somehow deemed them so. I now see every forage and blade of grass as food for my chickens and sheep and as such the last thing I would want is a chemical combatant in the picture.

Mid-March is the time to start using pre-emergent herbicides formulated for lawns and flowerbeds.As an alternative, look for corn gluten-based products so you can avoid synthetic chemicals in your environment – and maybe some meditation on the usefulness of all species.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.