So you think that winter is a time for gardeners to sit back, relax, order some seeds and plan for the spring planting, summer beauty, and fall bounty? Think again. Winter is actually a great time to control some of the more crafty weeds in our gardens, especially on days when temperatures are above freezing, the soil is pliable and there is little to no snow cover.
Some of these weeds are annuals (meaning they grow from new seeds each year) and some are perennials (meaning they live for multiple years). Garden Fence Panels
I first learned about winter annuals when I saw how early in the spring hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) went to seed. Seeds pop out of a tall thin capsule called a silique in early spring, spreading widely over the soil before most garden plants have even started to mature. The plant also takes advantage of areas of thinner grass, such as where new grass was planted in the fall.
I watched for hairy bittercress in the fall and saw that it germinates as early as September and remains viable throughout the winter. Once the small white flowers emerge, time is running short to pull the weed before it goes to seed. To prevent that ballistic seed dispersal in spring, the gardener must pull the weeds over the winter, depriving them of flowering and seed production.
Another annual to notice in winter is purple dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum), a member of the mint family. It is one of the first weeds to appear in the spring, goes dormant during the summer, then starts growing again in the fall. Purple dead-nettle is considered an invasive species in the United States and winter weeding is key to stopping its prolific seed generation.
The mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum) is a perennial that can tolerate temperatures as low as –35°F, making winter a good time to identify and remove it from your garden beds. It is considered invasive because it can grow in dense patches that prohibit other plant growth. Mouse ear chickweed propagates both from new seed dispersal and from its creeping stems.
As with any time of year, it is important to watch where you tread in your garden while weeding so as not to compress soil and decrease its ability to support growth. In late winter, it is especially important to not step where spring bulbs are just beginning to emerge.
Wall Brackets Gardeners can be a hardy and hardworking bunch, and winter weeding is simply the next frontier.