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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. Debora on

    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.

  2. Garden Mentors on

    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.

  3. Paul on

    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.

  4. Garden Mentors on

    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.

  5. Beth on

    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.

  6. Garden Mentors on

    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.

  7. Bobby on

    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.

  8. sharon on

    i use a little sprinkle of baking soda on each
    “spotweed” & it kills them dead.
    Our soil is low in pH so the b.soda raises that.

    Spotweed seems to detest “sweet” soil –
    glad i tried this little experiment cuz got tired of getting hit hard on the skin & eyes.

  9. Karen on

    I serve deviled eggs with a wee sprig o’ shotweed stuck into the top–lovely! I also love it in a quick sandwich when I’m out of lettuce. It’s not a big deal to try it: next time one crosses your path, nip it in the bud and pop it into your mouth. It tastes like watercress. Cheaper–and usually always available.

  10. Garden Mentors on

    Flame weeding shot weed has worked for us, but we only apply fire in situations were starting an uncontrolled burn isn’t going to happen. Attempt with extreme caution!

  11. Katrina on

    I am wondering what type of soil shotweed thrives in–it seems to prefer a sandy/loamy soil. Am thinking it dislikes soil rich in organic matter…so adding mulch might deter future growth?

  12. Garden Mentors on

    Katrina,

    Unfortunately shotweed thrives in just about any soil. It loves to pop up in mulches and rich soils too. It loves moisture, which mulches tend to hold. Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy week to pull!

  13. JerseyJoe on

    I have a “zero tolerance” program on this weed here in NJ and decided I needed the find out the name. Thx great article.

    I was over a friend’s house this weekend in PA and he is not a gardener at all (doesn’t even own a shove!). Well in the back of his lawn – where I assume the weed started it’s invasion, he had 10s of thousands, all standing about a foot tall and rip with 100s of hundreds of thousands of seeds ripening an readying their ongoing invasion. It was a bit horrifying.

    This weed must be a foreign invader. It appears to have a bigger cousin too (taller up to 2.5 ft and large hairy, rich green leaves) which is easier to pick because it is tall and has a easy tap root to yank from the top of the stalk. I had many hundreds when I moved in to this house about 2.5 years back – now I am down to a few dozen sprouts here and there. I took my eradication of this bigger weed into the surrounding wood lots to help keep it at bay.

    I somehow doubt either of these weeds are native because both are only recent additions to roadsides and footpaths – not to mention lawns and gardens.

    BTW One strategy i use with all weeds, I do a slow surround – cleaning out thinly invaded areas first and moving towards the epicentre. Seed remove naturally is key because as with all weeds – it is a multi-year affair to at least get control.

    Good luck with this baby because once you realized you have been invaded – it is a moment of “WTF!”

  14. Virginia on

    I love Shotweed.!! It is a wonderful free source of iron & vitamins. It has 10 times more iron than spinach. So do dandelions. Both of these should not be seen as pests. They are free wonderful nutrition. The Shotweed is in the cress family & tastes just like watercress. Coming from Europe, we used to make cream cheese & cress sandwiches. The cress adds a “bite” to the mild cream cheese. Now I make cream cheese & Shotweed sandwiches. I eat the flowers & little feathery side branches that I pull off the main stem. I also put lots of it in a green leafy salad. It just blends right in & adds a little look of variety among the lettuce leaves. Awesome stuff. I look forward to seeing it again every year!

  15. Linda Hindes on

    1st time it is under my 33 yards of large nugget bark.
    I have pulled it all out – dead tired.
    What can I use to prevent the return. What product and how to use it. Do I have to remove the bark or can I put something over the bark and WATER it down to ground? HELP.

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