Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Bitter Cress and Groundsel are Blooming
Bitter Cress is blooming right now (mid-March) all over the county. You won’t get a better chance to eliminate it from your yard than the next few weeks—though a few plants can sprout and bloom all summer, right up to late fall. While it is blooming, they are relatively easy to see by their tiny white four-petal flowers, though the smallest plants are not obvious; some are as tiny as a half-inch wide and 1.5 inches tall, fully seeded out. The largest are 6” wide across the basal leaves with numerous stalks up to 18 inches tall seeded out. They are easiest to pull when they have started to develop seed pods.
They become a nearly invisible green mist when all the flowers are finished, but as they turn yellow and dry, they become an eyesore, as well as popping their seeds up to three feet in all directions at the slightest disturbance of the pods. By this time, seed control is impossible; all one can do is pull the dry stalks and resolve to do better next year.
Other mustard family plants, most of them with yellow flowers, are also starting to bloom. The flowers are pretty, but you want to pull them before they seed out if you don’t want more of them next year. Mustards don’t spread by wind, and if you don’t use unfiltered irrigation water, you can eliminate them over a few years by pulling them in flower.
Another weed that is blooming right now, and quickly blowing out and spreading to your neighbors’ yards or from them, is groundsel. It is a composite flower of the same family as dandelion and wild lettuce and not pretty, much like a miniature wild lettuce, up to a foot tall, with squared-off leaves; the flowers are yellow, do not open fully, and bend over while they are in bloom, straightening as they form seed. It is the first blowing weed of the season, blooming in empty lots all over town. It’s easy to pull when in bloom.
Dandelions are also starting to bloom. A famous gardener once said that if dandelions were rare and hard to grow, they would be a prized flower. Their dead-heads don’t even look bad, and they can be tasty greens before they bloom—but once buds start to form in the base, they turn quite bitter.
Dandelions are equally easy to pull before and after blooming: not easy at all unless your soil is loose from generous mulching with compost or leaves. With big tap roots like these in tight soil, it’s best to stick a shovel in next to the root, loosen, and then pull. Wild lettuce (not blooming yet) is easier to pull when in bloom, as it puts up a handy flower stalk and has shallower roots, but it is not a strong stalk, and you have to grab the base.
Gardening is growing plants where you want them to grow, not where they want to grow. Many a pretty flower shows itself to be a weed unless kept under tight control, and that goes double for flowers that cast their seeds to the wind.