Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Time to kill heron's bill

Heron’s bill (Erodium sp., AKA fillaree or storksbill) is finally blooming.  It used to be one of the earliest flowers in the spring.  But its bloom seems to be determined by day length, while early spring weeds that bloom by temperature have been blooming since December or January.  It is time to kill it, because it is dangerous to pets.

               Tiny heron's bill, 2" high 

Heron's bill seed, dried

 Its five-petaled ¼” pinkish-purple flowers make seed pods 2-3 inches long that stick straight up as they ripen.  The width of its petals vary.  They split into two seeds of about ¼ - 3/8 inches long with barbs and a tail that curls up as it dries and pops the seeds off the plant.  The tail has a straight part at the end that sticks out at right angles to the seed and spiral.  When it gets wet, the spiral unwinds, and with the tail sticking to the ground, screws the seed into the ground at the other end—or into your pet’s fur, or eyes, nose, or ears.  It grows all over Grants Pass.

Single heron's bill, seeded out

Mowed heron's bill with fat petals.  Note the long, upright seed pods, center

Its leaves are long and divided, growing in a rosette from fall through winter.  They can grow flat or fluffy, more or less finely divided, with petioles that can be red, green, or shades between of pink or orange.  As it blooms, it grows to about knee-high unless mowed.  If it's only mowed, it keeps making seed, like any annual weed, shedding seed under the mower blades.  Mowing thus does not control its spread.

Cranesbill, Mid-February

There is a related plant, called cranesbill (Geranium sp.), with slightly smaller fringed pink petals and short seeds that don’t stick into your pets.  The leaves are round and divided, with long petioles.  It is not nearly as noxious as heron’s bill, though it is listed as noxious for its takeover habit.  It is also easier to pull than heron’s bill.

Red heron's bill with flat leaves, mid-February

I used to wait until heron’s bill bloomed to kill it, the blooms being the easiest way to find it, and not being certain that it would not come back if cut earlier.  But the flowers close by late morning; it makes seed fast; and it is harder to see after being mowed.  So I have been killing it as I see it all winter, and it has not come back.  

The easiest way to kill heron's bill is to cut it in the dirt under the crown, through the root, rather than trying to pull the taproot.  As an annual, it has no food in its roots and dies if the crown is cut off, unlike dandelions and other perennials. 

My favorite weed cutting tool has long been carbon-steel gardening scissors that are no longer available on the web.  But this year, I have been cutting under weeds with a cheap broad-bladed folding knife, the kind that has a saw portion on lower half of the blade and a metal clip to hold it.  I've even found that I can slide under multiple weeds where the dirt is soft, like a hula hoe, and work much faster than with scissors.
March 2016 issue, published online at  
Gardening is easy if you do it naturally.  Like Garden Grants Pass on Facebook.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040