By Joyce Hylton, Extension Master Gardener
Photos by Joyce Hylton
Ah, spring is here! I can feel the earth coming alive; a miniature earthquake is occurring as green shoots and stems emerge from the ground. Though soundless, it’s a visual delight—bulbs sprouting, trees and shrubs leafing out, grass greening, and of course the weeds. They, too, are joining the rush to claim their little plot of land. Two weeds seem particularly determined to occupy my gravel path.
Mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum), a broadleaf perennial, looks a bit like its cousin common chickweed, having a similar leaf shape and mat-forming ability. The name refers to the hairy leaves that look a bit like a mouse’s ear. While its cousin spreads only by seed, mouse-ear is a perennial (or winter annual) whose mats expand by rooting at the nodes, and, once established, returns each year from its roots. It, too, produces lots of seed and left unopposed will claim as much space as it can. The easiest way to control it is by digging up the very shallow roots. However, if you don’t get the roots out of the ground it’s going to come back year after year, and the longer it stays in the ground the more expansive its territory.
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Looking around, I notice yet another weed attempting to stake a claim in my path. The basal rosette of horseweed (Erigeron canadensis formerly Conyza canadensis) is rapidly expanding. The young leaves are egg-shaped with toothed margins, but the mature stalk bears 4-inch-long hairy leaves without petioles. Although it is a native plant and as such plays a role in our ecosystem, it does not belong in my path (or in my garden, to be honest). Horseweed is both a winter annual and a summer annual; in other words, don’t turn your back! Left alone, this weed will produce erect hairy stems reaching 6.5 feet in height. The flower heads at the top of the stem consist of tiny white rays with yellow disks. The flowers quickly transition to seeds that the wind helpfully distributes. The rosette stage has a short taproot along with fibrous roots and is easily removed.
Both weeds respond to most commercial herbicides. However, both are easily dug or pulled, providing some exercise for you and protection for the environment.