Gardening Classes in Bow, WA at Blanchard Mountain Farm with Garden Mentors

Managing Weeds in Seattle — Shotweed

Ready to Grow Your Best Garden Now?
Learn about flora and fauna with Garden Mentors.
Learn preserve, craft & make the most from your garden.
Learn to grow your own food and herbs with us.
Join the Garden Mentors Academy Today!

Need help managing weeds like shotweed?

Yep, it’s that time for cool season annual weeds to pop up their tenacious little heads again. Among them — shotweed. It loves 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 seen as a weed by many. In fact, after introducing a client to it in her own garden, I realized it was time to remind all of you gardening readers that this weed is a multi-season menace for many. Others, however may decide it’s actually useful.

Need help managing weeds other than 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.

Now, back to weeding shotweed…

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 the plant. And no weeding coverage would be complete without dealing with a tenacious little plant – 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

Shotweed goes by a variety of common names.

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.

Manage weeds by eating them!

The “cress” terms for shotweed come from those who harvest it as a food crop. I’ve tasted it, and it isn’t my favorite. But, my chickens love it. 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. 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 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 Shot weed already flowering

Tiny Shotweed

As soon as you see shotweed, pull it!

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. 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.

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. 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.

And, don’t set them down on the earth after you pull.

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.

In Seattle and other parts of the Pacific Northwest, 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!

You can win in managing weeds!

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.

And if you still need help managing your weeds, sign up now to be first in line when we open enrollment in our limited availability group garden coaching club program. Not only do we help you work through your biggest gardening challenges 1:1, but we provide professional seminars on our best techniques for managing weeds of all kinds easier, faster, in environmentally friendly ways that can save you money too!

45 comments on “Managing Weeds in Seattle — 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *