Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bitter Cress and Groundsel are already seeding

Groundsel and bitter cress, blooming together

Bitter cress and groundsel are blooming and groundsel is seeding all over our valley about 2 months early, in January, indeed, before Christmas.  They usually start seeding in March.  You won’t get a better chance to eliminate them from your yard than the next few weeks—though a few plants can sprout and bloom all summer, right up to late fall. 

Young bitter cress, close up, abut 2 inches wide

While bitter cress is blooming, it is relatively easy to see by its tiny white four-petal flowers, though the smallest plants are not obvious; some are as tiny as a half-inch wide and 1.5 inches tall, fully seeded out.  The largest are 6” wide across the basal leaves with numerous stalks up to 18 inches tall seeded out.  They are easiest to pull when they have started to develop seed pods.
Just before they bloom, the larger plants are good to eat as a hot, bitter mustard green.  They are small, but softer and juicier than most mustards, good in a salad.  But don’t let them seed out; they are a nuisance.

Seeded bitter cress, popped out and ugly.

They become a nearly invisible green mist when all the flowers are finished, but as they turn yellow and dry, they become an eyesore, and pop their seeds up to three feet in all directions at the slightest disturbance of the pods.  By this time, seed control is impossible; all one can do is pull the dry stalks and resolve to do better next year. 

Groundsel, blooming and seeding in a ditch

Groundsel is also blooming right now, quickly blowing out and spreading to your neighbors’ yards or from themIt is a miniature wild lettuce and not pretty, up to a foot tall, with squared-off leaves; the flowers are yellow, do not open fully, bending over while they are in bloom, straightening as they make seed.  It is the first blowing weed of the season, blooming in yards and empty lots all over town.  It’s often easy to pull, but like other wild lettuce, sticks hard in hard ground.  Cutting it under its crown, in the soil beneath where the leaves grow, will kill it.
Dandelions are also blooming and seeding about 2 months early.  A famous gardener once said that if dandelions were rare and hard to grow, they would be a prized flower.  Their dead-heads don’t even look bad, and they can be tasty greens before they bloom—but once buds even start to form in the base, they turn quite bitter. 
Dandelions are equally hard to pull before and after blooming:  not easy at all unless your soil is loose from generous mulching with compost or leaves.  With big perennial tap roots like these, it’s best to stick a shovel in next to the root, loosen, and pull. 
Gardening is growing plants where you want them to grow, not where they happen to land.  Many a pretty flower or edible plant shows itself to be a weed unless kept under tight control, and that goes double for flowers that cast their seeds to the wind.

Revised Jan-Feb 2015 issue, online at GardenGrantsPass.blogspot.com and at the Mail Center, 305 NE 6th
Gardening is easy if you do it naturally.  Litter is tagging, marking the territory of the disorderly.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040        rycke@gardener.com