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Managing Weeds in Seattle — Shotweed

October 21, 2009

Need help managing weeds popping up in fall?

Yep, it’s that time for cool season annual weeds to pop up their tenacious little heads again. Among them — Shotweed. It loves our mild temps and gentle, if persistent, autumn rains. Despite being a weed, it can be quite lovely carpeting flower beds in a lovely brilliant spring green. But as lovely as it can be, it is still a weed. So, after introducing a client to it in her own garden earlier this week, I realized it was time to remind all of you gardening readers that this weed is a multi-season menace. As in February when I first posted this article, now’s yet another time to work on clearing it out of your beds. Read more in the original post that follows:

Original Post from February 2009:

One of the many things I do as a garden coach is teach individuals about the weeds in their gardens. Knowing what a weed is and how it grows helps us understand the best ways to deal with the plant. Today, I begin a garden weed blog series, Weeds in Seattle, with a tenacious little plant – Shotweed (Cardamine oligosperma).

Shotweed Rosette Flowering

Shotweed Rosette Flowering

I decided to start with Shotweed because it is already showing up in tight little flowering clusters all over the greater Seattle area. It seems innocuous until it takes over the garden. I recall in years past telling a neighbor, “As far as weeds go, this one isn’t too horrible. See it has pretty little white flowers.”

Well, shame on me. Letting those pretty little white flowers form and go to seed just meant I was letting this weed get the best of my garden spaces. Sure, we all have to pick our battles in the garden, and we do what we can to stay on top of everything, but knowing that this is a fairly simple weed to remove means I’m going to encourage you to work at keeping it at bay.

Shotweed Seeds Ripening

Shotweed Seeds Ripening

Shotweed goes by a variety of common names. Shotweed, spitweed, Pop-in-the-eye Weed, Wild cress, Western Bittercress, and Little Bittercress are just a few of the names you’ll hear. The “shot/spit/pop” names come from from poor souls who try to pull it as it has gone to seed. Once those seed pods ripen, the slightest breeze or touch will send tiny seeds flying all over the garden — and right into your eye. The “cress” terms come from those who harvest it as a food crop. Personally, I haven’t eaten it. However, Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Garden Guide (available here)  indicates that the stem tips and flowers are slightly peppery. The USDA site says its not palatable to humans.  Many other sources discuss it as a good addition to salads. Again, I haven’t eaten it. If you’re going to try it, be sure to properly identify your plant first and try only a very small amount to start and taste at your own risk. Just because one person can eat something doesn’t mean everyone can!

So, what if you just want to get rid of it? Well, you now know that the seeds fire off in all directions if the plant gets a chance to go to seed. So, ideally, you want to remove it from the garden before it sets seed. Unfortunately, for those of us not growing it as an edible crop, this can mean it appears in our cool-weather gardens multiple times a year. This plant likes cool weather. Seeds germinate even in winter, and start appearing in the garden throughout winter. Right now, I can see several of the tight little rosette forms of the plant in my own garden. And, some of them are even putting on flowers.  And this has been going on all winter, even though we’ve had cold and freezes. Fortunately, it takes slightly warmer weather for the flowers to transform into seed pods, so we can get out there now get it before this year’s seeds form.  Seed formation will be happening easily by March, if not sooner.

Tiny Shotweed

Tiny Shotweed

So, I’m starting to pull the shotweed plants  from the garden as I see them. As a self-seeding annual weed, these plants germinate from seed, form a plant that forms flowers and then seeds. When the seeds are spent, the original plant dies. (There are some perennial forms of Cardamine as well, fyi). And, the plant doesn’t form a deep taproot like you’ll find with Dandelions and Dockweeds, which I’ll cover later in this series. Instead, it is fairly shallow-rooted, with wide tiny roots that are easy to pull. It does have a slight taproot, but nothing difficult to remove. Plus, unlike the taproot weeds, if you don’t get all of the root from a shotweed plant, it isn’t likely to grow back (or multiply) from the roots.

It is important to dispose of the pulled plants and not just set them back on the soil. If you pull them and set them down, even root side up, these buggers often have the ability to reroot themselves. Probably this is because they grow in cool, moist weather that can give exposed roots a fighting chance even will removed from the ground.

So, if you get out there now, before the spring growth surge, and remove your shotweed, you’ll have a better chance of reducing its numbers. Keep in mind that this plant can germinate many times in our growing seasons. It only really stops when we hit the dry heat of summer — except that the dying plants will be spitting out new seeds that will germinate when the weather turns cool and moist again. And, of course, those seeds will come to life even sooner if they land in a shady spot that your irrigation reaches.

In Seattle, you’re likely to see plants in the garden starting in January – June and again September-November. Sometimes shotweed will appear in other months as well. The plants can range from the size of a penny to the size of a geranium depending on time of year and its growing environment. And, yes, regardless of size, every plant has the potential to form flowers and seeds!

It may sound like shotweed eradication is an impossible battle to win, but because shotweed is so easy to pull, it’s one weed that doesn’t require a lot of tools. You just need a sharp eye during your daily strolls through the garden and the willingness to pull a few weeds along the way. Of course, if you’ve decided at one time or other that it looks pretty and is no big deal, like I did foolishly years ago, you may need to go after it more seriously the first (and possibly second and third) time around.

31 Comments

  1. Karen says:

    I hate this one with a passion! I am super vigilant about getting rid of it before it flowers/seeds but still it’s there again every year, seemingly in greater quantities. My mom calls it “popping weed” and it is the bane of her Eastside garden too. Ugh!

  2. Susan Maki says:

    After a walk through my garden over the weekend, I was so disappointed to see shotweek popping up everywhere. I thought I had been so thorough last year removing the week before it went to seed. I wonder if there was latent seed in my soil, just waiting for the opportune moment to germinate and grow. I know I will steal 30 minutes here and there to hand weed it out before it goes to seed. As a contact lens wearer, I can attest that the seeds can go right into the eye and pop out a contact! Lens wearers, beware! Get it out of your garden now before seeds form!

  3. Karen says:

    PS Do you know that the Google ad running next to this post is one for herbicide?

  4. rhaglund says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that’s the case. If I use the keyword, they will come. Unfortunately, there’s only so much screening I can do. Hopefully folks will read the post and not just buy a random chemical!

  5. Great post! I never knew what this weed was called. I have it too; frankly, it’s the least of my worries. It’s better than bindweed (morning glory)! And hey, it’s edible. I’ll give it a try in my next salad.

  6. Mrs. Q. says:

    Thank you for this post and for the photos that helped me identify this weed. This is the first time I noticed this weed in the seedling state because it shot seeds when I tried to pull it out. Lucky for me it’s edible because I got several in my mouth! Ever since we stopped using chemicals on our lawn several years ago, we have more and more ‘herbs’ I never knew existed. I hate to think how far this one is going to spread.

  7. Willi says:

    This is perfect timing! I was planning on weeding today and now I know that in addition to bind weed, thistle, and chickweed, I have shotweed in my garden! Thanks, Robin!

  8. rhaglund says:

    Glad to help Willi. Bindweed and thistle — yuck. Those are tough ones to eradicate. Chickweed and Shotweed are easier to manage, but they never seem to stop coming up.

    Good luck out there today!

  9. [...] Contact | Store | Garden Mentors « Managing Weeds in Seattle — Shotweed [...]

  10. Tanner says:

    Just a comment on the pictures. “Shotweed” refers to nearly all the bittercresses and all of these are hard to differentiate. I believe that these pictures are of Cardamine hirusta, “Hairy Bittercress”. I am not sure how to distinguish C. hirusta from C. oligosperma, but they are quite similar I believe, as are all the bittercresses. The Only way to tell C. hirusta from the others (excepting oligosperma, of which I do not know) is that C. hirusta has an unstraightened petiole.

  11. Daria says:

    It’s great in soup and salads, and pairs well with something bland, like potatoes. It’s a little fussy to clean in it’s small stages, and it gets a bit stringy as it sends up it’s flower stalk, though it can still be used in stock at that stage. There’s plenty of it when there’s hardly anything else fresh that’s edible in the garden, a little goes a goodly way, and it eating it seems like a perfect revenge.

  12. [...] mulch, so not too many weed seedlings are showing up yet. Still, I did see quite a few rosettes of shotweed popping up here and there. Soon, if this weather keeps up, I won’t be able to continue to [...]

  13. Denise says:

    Love these posts. I’m so glad I’m not alone in this weed infestation. I didn’t know what they were either. Called them Pea Shooters. Why aren’t the seeds edible? Maybe they’re they too hard to catch? :)

  14. Chet says:

    I discovered this plant in my garden about 5 or so years ago in eastern New York State. It most likely came in with some nursery plants. At first, I half-heartedly started picking it until I realized how invasive it can become. It really is all over the place, but in patches, so far. Now I am on a mission to at least minimize it in the gardens. Just finished picking enough to fill a 40# bird seed bag!! Off to the dump with it.

    PS, I didn’t find the stuff to be particularly tasty.

  15. [...] the days become crisp and the rains return, cool season weeds like shotweed (aka pop-in-your-eye weed or cress weed) will be re-emerging from seed. And, they too, should be [...]

  16. Russell Chevrette says:

    I have engaged in a hand-weed eradication program for these little buggers for many years. I attend to my garden beds and my 200 foot long gravel driveway through March and April. In retrospect, I realize my efforts are actually a natural selection process: the larger plants no longer show up, but the nickel size ones abound, even though the small ones only produce one seed stalk. The little versions are harder to spot, escape being pulled, and therefore their genes are the ones that get passed on. Darwin and Lamarck were dead on!

  17. Russell, same thing here! The littlest of them manage to hide and thrive in our garden too. Keep working away at them (and we’ll do the same)!

  18. Thank you for this post. I had no idea what this little critter was called and wanted to know. Your post is perfect. I live in suburban New York, and I actually love this little plant. It’s flowering now and other than the crocus and scylla, it’s the first thing to flower. Our cool weather season is abysmally short, though, so it doesn’t seem to keep germinating much past March here, and thus doesn’t take over my garden in the way you describe. My problem weed is mugwort. Ugh!

  19. Sherry, enjoy it. Wish I could trade some mugwort for this stuff!

  20. Late Kate says:

    I waited too long and now this weed has gone to seed all over my yard. Does anyone have advise on how to get them out without allowing the seeds to shoot everywhere?

  21. Try to gather the tops/seeds by covering with your hand to keep them from popping. Unfortunately, once they’ve gotten to the seed spitting point, it can be tough to get them out without spreading the seeds in the process. Good luck! We’re battling it too…always…

  22. Ruth Apter says:

    I LOVE SHOTWEED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It is delicious and grows in the winter. I always pick it BEFORE it flowers. I love it when I find large plants! Harvest tips: Pull it up roots and all. Remove roots before washing in a bowl or rinsing in a colander. Chop it up and use in omelets, stir fries, salads and soups. It is an excellent green. One year I did not buy any lettuce while shotweed was available. It only gets really bitter when it is old an gone to flower. I just harvest a huge pile from my community gardens greenhouse that was growing in the floor!!!!!! I am eating an emmer-faro slad with shotweed, sundried tomatoes in olive oil, basalmic vinegar, garlic, pepper and salt. Topped with a bit of grated romano cheese. Excellent! EAT YOUE WEEDS!!!

  23. Good for you Ruth. Keep enjoying nature’s harvest!

  24. Debora says:

    Ruth you are more than welcome to all the shotweed in my garden! Yesterday I spent hours weeding and have hours of weeding left. Not sure why there is such an infestation – perhaps in the soil we had delivered? There are large mats of the nasty stuff.

  25. Debora, It could be that the soil you had delivered had seeds or it could be that seeds blew into your amended beds and took hold. In any case, get it up now or it’ll just be worse later.

  26. Paul says:

    Regarding weeds in topsoil and Shot weed in particular….. If your topsoil or mulch comes from a source that uses urban yard waste you’ll have LOTS of weed seed because everyone dutifully puts their weeds into the Yard Waste container and off it goes to ‘Recycling’. Composting does not get hot enough to kill seeds, end of story, so if you put Shot weed into Yard Waste as so many do, you are guaranteed to be spreading the stuff you are cursing contributing to the spread of weeds in the form of your own noxious weed seed in future compost. Cedar Grove compost is absolutely terrible in this regard and I would recommend NOT buying it for that reason. I refuse to put Shot Weed or any other seeding weed waste into Yard Waste for this very reason. Mine goes into the Garbage bin and off to a landfill, not to someone else’s garden.

  27. Paul, Thanks for writing in. While we would agree that many finished commercial composts do harbor weed seeds or create environments where weed seeds will readily germinate, we would also point out that Cedar Grove’s most recent online quarterly quality assurance report indicates zero weed germination rates (http://cedar-grove.com/docs/Fine_quarterly-10-29-2013_New_logo.pdf). While home compost systems are rarely hot enough to cook weed seeds to a point where they are no longer viable, the systems at places like Cedar Grove essentially cook the life out of everything they compost.

  28. […] you liked the reminder from earlier this week about the return of autumn Shotweed? Well, here’s a reminder that the dandelions are showing up again. They love this weather. […]

  29. Beth says:

    Thank you everyone for clearing this up – was out weeding today and came across large patches of this with my son (in Seattle). We could not figure out what it was. Jumping bugs?? Googling led me to this site…we have our work cut out for us – it’s everywhere.

  30. Beth, glad we could help…at least help you figure out what it is…pulling and eradicating it is up to you & your son. Fortunately, this isn’t the hardest weed to pull.

  31. Bobby says:

    Shotweed is also an excellent forage for chickens. It’s one of the first greens available for them in the winter, and chickens will devour both the plants and the seeds.

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