I am not so sanguine about hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute), seen above, as I pretend to be about common chickweed. I can’t defeat chickweed because there’s too much of it. I think I still have a chance with hairy bittercress before it explodes its seeds in all directions.
There’s a great article about hairy bittercress online from The Columbus Dispatch, March 28, 2012, titled “Lawn a mess? It’s bittercress,” by Randy Ludlow. Ludlow says the weed’s name is evocative of the cranky old man up the street. You know, Harry Bittercress.
Ludlow blames above-average rainfall and a mild winter in 2012 for the bumper crop of hairy bittercress in lawns and gardens. This past winter, our rainfall was below normal, but the winter was definitely mild, and hairy bittercress is back.
Hairy bittercress is a member of the Brassicaceae, or mustard family, which is known for siliques, long and narrow podlike fruit with valves that coil as they mature and become explosively dehiscent, which means they can propel their seeds 3m, or over 10 feet, from the parent plant. Above is the best photo I have of the siliques. Last year, when I discovered hairy bittercress in my garden for the first time, simply because it was the first time I was paying attention, I called the explosively dehiscent situation plant terrorism. It’s rather terrifying when you are a witness to the explosion. As I mentioned above, all members of the mustard family sport siliques.
Hairy bittercress is a winter annual, like chickweed. The 2 weeds often grow together in the same bare spaces in the garden. Hairy bittercress starts off life as a cute little rosette. The stems that grow out of the rosettes are smooth and erect, with few leaves. Flowers are small with 4 white petals. The siliques mature along the stems, often ascending past the flowers, as can be seen in the photo above. At this point, hairy bittercress is no longer cute.
Hairy bittercress reproduces by seed. It has a branched taproot that is fairly easy to pull in good, moist soil. After giving up on eradication of chickweed for this year, I seized upon the total destruction of hairy bittercress as revenge for my chickweed failure. Pronouncing hairy bittercress a big bad 10, I went out to my garden on a cold but sunny day recently, armed with nothing more than a 5-gallon bucket, and proceeded to pull hairy bittercress up by its roots. As are my rules for dealing with weeds designated as 10, I was not distracted by other garden projects. I pulled hairy bittercress. That was all I did. I pulled it in every part of the garden where I remembered seeing it. I roamed about, looking for undiscovered patches of hairy bittercress. In 4 hours time, I had a trash can full of hairy bittercress to set out to the curb for municipal pickup. Although I will have to keep checking for overlooked pockets of hairy bittercress, I think I got most of it. Will my efforts make a difference in the quantity of hairy bittercress in my garden next spring. I don’t know. I’ll let you know next spring.
I couldn’t accomplish the same destruction on chickweed or many other weeds. They are harder to eradicate. They may be more intermingled with desirable plants. Lots of reasons. I similarly deal with dandelions as with hairy bittercress each spring, single-mindedly digging dandelions every morning first thing until there are none left to dig. Not because I dislike having a few dandies around. I actually love seeing a few here and there. I wage war on dandelions every spring to prove to my neighbors that my gardening methods are valid. Look, there are no dandelions in my garden, and I don’t use herbicides. This is very satisfying to me.
So, I win with dandelions and hairy bittercress. Maybe. At times. I don’t win, and probably never will, drat, with chickweed, mugwort, creeping Charlie, Japanese knotweed, and dozens of other weeds in my garden. At least with spring weeds, it’s easier to say they are cute. They usually smell good, and are often edible. Hairy bittercress is edible, believe it or not. I look at those siliques and say, no thanks. Later in the summer, when crabgrass, plantains, prostrate knotweed, and other uglies take over, weeding is much more of a chore. So, I’m glad it’s springtime now, with springtime weeds. Sufficient unto the day . . . .