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How to Get Rid of Shotweed

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Want to learn how to get rid of shotweed?

When it’s cool and damp, many ask as how to get rid of shotweed. That’s because this cool season annual weeds to pop up their tenacious little heads from late winter through late fall.

Shotweed loves mild temperatures and gentle, if persistent, rains. However, 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 seen as a weed by many.

Each time we introduce a coaching client to shot weed, we realize it’s time to remind readers that this weed is a multi-season menace for many. And likely you’re wondering how to get rid of it. Or maybe you might actually find that shotweed is useful.

Firs, identify what is shotweed in your garden:

One of the many things I do as a professional 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 a specific, nuisance plant. And no weeding coverage would be complete without addressing the tenacious little plant known as shotweed (Cardamine oligosperma).

managing weeds: shot weed rosette

Shotweed Rosette Flowering

Shotweed 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.

managing shot weed seed stage

Shotweed Seeds Ripening

What are some other names for shotweed?

Spitweed, pop-in-the-eye weed, wild cress, shotweed, 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.

To be clear, common names may lead to confusion. So always be sure you have fully identified your plant correcting. And to do that, botanical names might help!

Can I eat shotweed to get rid of it?

The “cress” terms for shotweed come from those who harvest it as a food crop. I’ve tasted it (after fully identifying it), and it isn’t my favorite.

But chickens love to eat shotweed. That’s because it’s a tender, fresh green that’s abundant after the dormant days of winter. Plus, at this time of year, hens are gearing up to lay eggs. And that makes them voracious!

Shotweed stem tips and flowers are slightly peppery. So, you might try it as a wild salad cress. But, as with all new wild foods, 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. And, only gather it from uncontaminated sites. Just because one person can eat something doesn’t mean everyone can. And, just because chickens love it, doesn’t mean you will.

So, what if you just want to get rid of shotweed for good?

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.

Remember, shotweed thrives in cool weather. Seeds germinate even in winter. So young shotweed plants may begin appearing in your garden throughout winter. That means it’s important to keep an eye out for the plants’ rosette forms hiding in plain sight. And get them out your garden beds before they bloom, which can happen fast.

Tiny Shot weed already flowering

Tiny Shotweed

See shotweed? Pull it to get rid of it asap!

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. (Just to confuse things, there are some perennial forms of Cardamine as well.).

Fortunately, this form of Cardamine doesn’t form a deep taproot like you’ll find with Dandelions and Dockweeds. 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 tough 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.

So, if you get out there before the spring growth surge, and remove your shotweed, you’ll have a better chance of reducing its numbers.

But, 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. And when the heat hits, the dying plants will be spitting out new seeds. And these seeds will germinate when the weather turns cool and moist again. Or, those seeds will may come to life even sooner if they land in a shady spot that your irrigation reaches.

No pulled shotweed left behind or else:

It is important to dispose of the pulled plants completely.  That means don’t be lazy and set them back on the soil. This is because if you pull this weed and set them down — even root side up — wiley shotweed often has the ability to reroot itself. Probably this is because they grow in cool, moist weather. So the damp and cool might be giving those exposed roots a fighting chance even will removed from the ground.

In Seattle and other parts of the Pacific Northwest, you’re likely to see shotweed plants in the garden starting in January – June and again September-November. But, sometimes pop-in-the-eye will appear in other months as well. Moreover, 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!

You can win in managing weeds!

It may sound like getting rid of shotweed 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.

Need help managing more than just shotweed?

We’ve put together several resources on ways to identify and take care of all sorts of garden weeds. Some weeds are dangerous. And, others may be edible. But, learning which is which. And, understanding the best way to deal with each may be challenging.

Access our A-Z Weeding Garden Guide Here.

49 comments on “How to Get Rid of Shotweed

  1. Garden Mentors on

    Linda, you probably will have more. Shotweed shoots seeds and lays down a thick, rich bank (account) of seeds for future generations. You could try smothering it with more wood chip mulch. And, don’t disturb the mulch, or you’ll expose the seeds to light, and they’ll germinate more readily. Or, perhaps, consider it a food crop & start harvesting to eat or to feed to chickens. They love it! Good luck 🙂

  2. John Meadows on

    Vinegar appears to be effective against this horrible weed. (I’ve been fighting it for years). But I’ve learned that vinegar does not kill the roots. Do you know if the loss of the leaves is enough to kill the roots? I usually just spray large areas of the weed, not individuals.

  3. Garden Mentors on

    John, depending on the concentration of vinegar, it might kill the whole plant. And, it might also depend on the age. Given these are annual weeds, I’d be surprised if the original plant actually comes back if you thoroughly kill the top growth. It is likely you have a seed bank going, so when you kill one round of plants, it exposes seeds below to sunlight and gives them space to then pop right up in place of what you just killed. Good luck!

  4. Elizabeth on

    Last year my lawn had no shotweed, this year it has been overtaken by shotweed!!! How did I ever get shotweed since I only saw a small plant about 1 acre away like this How can I get my lawn back before it looks like all shotweed? The land is in northwest corner of NJ, Montague.

  5. Garden Mentors on

    Elizabeth, Birds love to snack on shotweed, so perhaps they wrapped it in some fertilizer rich fuel and planted it for you. It sounds like time to pull the shotweed (fast before it goes to seed) and overseed your lawn. In our experience, shotweed rarely invades a lawn area unless the lawn was already patchy. Good luck!

  6. Erik on

    Hello and thanks for the info on the shotweed that has exploded all over my Seattle yard this fall. Like clockwork, when it cooled down the 2nd half of September with heavier and earlier rains, oh boy, it’s everywhere. It almost looks as though I just seeded an area that I had cleared – I did, theoretically, with shotweed. What should I do?

  7. Garden Mentors on

    Erik, Thanks for writing in. Sounds like you have a “seed bank”. That happens when the plant scatters seeds before you remove it. Smothering the seeds with a thick layer of mulch may help. And keep getting the plants out before they spread more seed or you’ll just keep adding deposits to that bank account you don’t really want. Good luck!

  8. Garden Mentors on

    William, We avoid discussions of ‘cides, and more specifically brands specifically. However, you to start understanding what a product does or does not do, try reviewing what the product itself claims and contact the manufacturer for additional information.

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