Chickweed, henbit, wild strawberry: worrisome weeds in wintertime
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 8:01 pm
Weeds, and the ensuing gardener’s battle with them, are usually thought of as summer agonies. Broiling sun, stifling humidity and the burgeoning explosion of weeds of every description conspire to create a veritable Gehenna of an endeavor.
Almost no one dwells on weeds in winter. They, however, well should. It is right in the middle of the coldest time of year that the roots of some of them are questing for new territory, gathering strength for a burst of top-hamper that will, come the first mellow days, swamp everything in sight.
First to come to mind are chickweed and henbit. Interestingly enough, those names result from chickens grazing on them in winter, when precious few other greens are available. Both are innocuous enough in their early stages, but it is precisely then that they are most vulnerable to a hoe or herbicide.
Chickweed has little rounded leaves smaller than a dime. It is an annual that germinates its seeds in autumn, after the first cooling of the earth. It is almost microscopic then, but slowly goes from strength to strength in late autumn and winter.
Often by February, if unchecked, one tiny seedling can grow to a mat fully a foot across of healthy and vigorous green.
A thick stand of chickweed can smother lawn grasses and even small scale perennials or vegetable seedlings. Hence, the need to get it before it reaches pernicuous proportions.
A hoe will work or, as we said, herbicide. In a lawn, young chickweed is best taken care of by a shot (it won’t take but one) of a 2-4D-based broadleaf herbicide. This won’t hurt the grass unless it is mistakenly mixed too strong. In cold weather the effects of the herbicide might not be noticed for weeks, but be assured the chickweed will yellow and die eventually.
Henbit has somewhat larger leaves and makes up into an even heftier plant. Treatment, however, is the same and the same broadleaf killer will work on it as well.
Another common winter (year-round, for that matter) weed is what most people call wild strawberry. I don’t know the proper name for it, but it is a stolonizing plant with foliage that looks exactly like that of a small strawberry. At maturity, it bears little red berries with exterior seeds like a real strawberry. I am sure they are akin.
At any rate, the sooner you can eliminate the plants the better. With warmer weather, they can send out stolons several feet. These root at every joint, and a stand of this plant can swallow a lot of garden. If left to its own devices, wild strawberry can get ahead of you quickly.
The plant is evergreen and easy to spot on otherwise bare winter ground. As long as the ground is not frozen and is in the usual winter state of clammy mud, the plants are easy to extract by hand. With harder and drier ground it is no cinch to get out root and all from each anchored stolon. But all of it must be removed for full control.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — (With apologies to Thomas Fuller in “Gnomologia”) A stitch in time saves nine.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 2.1.11