How to control Chickweed

What is Chickweed?

To get rid of chickweed it helps to understand the plant and its life cycle. This is a brief description of Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), how it grows and a few suggested methods of keeping it out of your garden, lawn and ornamental beds.

Chickweed flowerChickweed is a cool season annual plant native to Europe and found all over North America. It grows low to the ground forming a dense mat with succulent leaves and small white flowers. Chickweed grows best in well-watered areas and is adaptable to almost any environment. The time between germination to flowering and setting seed can be as short as five weeks. Seed pods follow the flowers almost immediately and one plant can produce 800 or more seeds. Chickweed spreads quickly by sending out new roots from the nodes on the stems and it can be a nuisance to home gardeners and more of a problem in commercial agriculture as the leaves of the plant provide the perfect environment for fungal diseases and insect pests.

Controlling Chickweed

Home gardeners can control Chickweed without the use of herbicides by hand weeding, covering exposed soil areas with organic mulch or by solarization. Soil solarization is a method of decontaminating an area by covering it with clear polyethylene harnessing solar energy and heating to temperatures lethal to seeds and other garden pests. Chickweed (and other weeds) can also be destroyed by pouring boiling water onto the plant.

Chickweed is best controlled before it flowers, this can be tough due to the short period of time between germination and flowering but regularly removing the plant will eventually get rid of it. The key is to prevent seeds from developing and spreading around the flowerbeds and other exposed dirt, so when weeding remove all plant debris from the area. Although chickweed is an annual, it reappears yearly until the seeds are depleted and once they settle into the dirt, that may take up to seven or eight years.

Sterilizing potting soil and small areas

One of my sister’s beautiful patio pots, thanks Deb!

Potting soil is the perfect environment for weed seeds and destructive pests but instead of tossing it out at the end of the season, consider sterilizing it. To sterilize soil, bake it in a roasting pan in an 82°C (180°F) oven. When the soil itself reaches 82°C (180°F), set the timer for 30 minutes without allowing soil temp to exceed 93°C (200°F). This will destroy all bugs and seeds and your soil will be ready for next year’s patio pots. Areas of the yard such as flower beds may be sterilized by covering with black plastic secured around the edges and allowing the soil to bake in the hot summer sun for 10 days to two weeks.

Herbicides to control weeds

The mention of herbicide in any of the articles on this website is not an endorsement, but is provided for information only. Herbicides should be used with great care according to label instructions and as a last resort. The provinces or regions may have varying laws regarding herbicide use and the university’s departments of horticulture or agriculture can be a resource for determining products available for use by  homeowners.

Source for the following: University of Saskatchewan / College of Agriculture and Bioresources – Herbicides are not recommended for use in the garden; for ornamental beds trifluralin, sold under the name Garden Weed Preventer by COOP applied to the soil surface in spring will effectively prevent the seeds of several broadleaf and grassy weeds from germinating. Chickweed is resistant to straight 2,4-D but can be controlled with mixtures such as Killex and Trimex applied in the fall preventing winter annual plants from germinating. Spring applications should be done with care to avoid possible damage to other garden plants.

Garden wisdom:

“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”
–  Doug Larson


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