Saturday, January 16, 2016

Weeding never ends in Grants Pass

 Blooming groundsel, center, and bitter cress surrounding

I saw a groundsel plant in full bloom right after New Year’s Day, down at the Greenwood Dog Park.  I thought it was earlier than I’d ever seen it, but checking last year’s article, it is, if anything, a little later than last year.

Young bitter cress, 2" wide

Likewise, bitter cress has been starting to grow and bloom in December, but not as fast as last year, likely due to all the cold rain we’ve been having, slowing its growth.  But I’ve been weeding the bitter cress and groundsel this year before it starts to bloom, so as not to have to do so much just before they start spreading seed.  I’ve been seeing dandelions blooming like last year, and wild lettuce is growing large faster than last year.
Over the last few years, weeding season has not ended; it has only been slowed down in late fall and early winter enough to concentrate on other things, like leaf cleaning and spreading.  Spreading of extra leaves over flower beds, shrub borders, and vegetable patches smothers young weeds so they don’t have to be weeded out, while seeds that later land on top cannot easily grow in leaves that dry out on top when the rain stops.

Seeded bitter cress

The main problem with groundsel and bitter cress is that they are ugly after they seed out, by which time it is too late to prevent the next crop.  Bitter cress is a small mustard that grows from 2 inches to 18 inches tall with little white flowers.  These form green pods that are nearly invisible until they pop dozens to hundreds of seeds about 18 inches in all directions and turn cream colored and ugly.  They come up in thick stands the following season, masking the loveliness of your garden.  Before it flowers, it is a good hot, bitter green for salads, but then it must be pulled or it will take over.

Seeding groundsel

Groundsel is a small relative of wild lettuce, with crenellated leaves and small, nodding yellow flowers that never completely open.  As the seed heads ripen, they grow erect and open to send their small fluffy seeds flying on the breeze to plague your neighbors like other wild lettuces. 
Both of these weeds can be readily pulled when young and the soil is wet, or they can be cut beneath the crown when flowering and will not grow back.  Like most annuals, they put all their root energy into growing a stalk and flowers.  

Wild lettuce putting up seed stalks, surrounded by seeded bitter cress, with cheat grass seeding behind it

Wild lettuce is harder to pull, but cutting under the crown will kill it.  It is bitter once it starts to put up a flower stalk.
Dandelions, on the other hand, are perennials that grow from thick, deep tap roots that do not die, and have to be dug out.  It is very bitter once flower buds have even started to form in the base.  Slide a shovel or a weeding knife beside the root and pop it out by leaning the tool away from the plant.  Repeat as necessary, any time you seem them.

January 2016 issue, published online at  
Gardening is easy if you do it naturally.  Litter is tagging, marking the territory of the disorderly.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040