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Fall 2011

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

November 22, 2011

Wrestling with winter's weeds

By the time the first frost seizes the garden, winter's weeds have germinated and are growing profusely. Some, such as chickweed, are already in bloom.

Resembling big, green snowflakes, rosettes of hairy bittercress, another plant that thrives in cold weather, proliferate on exposed garden soil. Some sprouted weeks ago after slender pods atop their mother plant exploded, propelling seeds as far as 16 feet.

Bittercress survives hard freezes, making it available throughout the winter for those of us who enjoy it as a peppery addition to salads. The leaves are smaller than watercress, a milder-tasting, more succulent relative.

Vegetable gardeners who prefer to curb winter weeds rather than eat them can thwart weed sprouts by applying a thick layer of tree leaves to the soil, robbing the weeds of sunlight.

When spring arrives, the tree leaves can be raked away from vegetable beds before planting, then used throughout the summer as a handy mulch. By this time next year, the leaves will have decayed, enriching the soil.

Most hardwood leaves work well as a mulch, but gardeners should avoid using the leaves of either the black walnut or the tree of heaven, which contain compounds that can suppress the growth of vegetables.

SOURCES: Virginia Tech, www.gardenorganic.org.uk, Plants For A Future

Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta.