Weed That Shoots Seeds

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Hairy bittercress is an annual weed that can spread quickly. Spring is in the air, little green things are popping up all over, and we all heave a sigh of relief that the blanket of white stuff is finally gone. But beneath the snow that stopped everything in… Hairy bittercress is a winter annual weed that germinates in the cool moist conditions of late fall. Seed pods pop and fly everywhere when lightly touched.

Hairy bittercress: A weed to watch out for

Hairy bittercress is an annual weed that can spread quickly.

Flowers and seed pods of hairy bittercress. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

Have you recently noticed plants with small, white flowers on the edges of your lawn, flowerbeds and rock pathways? During April and May, populations of the winter annual weed hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) become increasingly visible. Hairy bittercress has a low growing rosette similar in form to a dandelion. It raises its profile in early spring with the appearance of flowers and seeds on a vertical stem. Like many members of the mustard family, hairy bittercress sets seed prolifically. It grows quickly and a few plants or seeds can generate a more widespread infestation in even a year’s time.

The first true leaves of hairy bittercress are heart shaped. Photo by Erin Hill, MSU.

Hairy bittercress is a winter annual weed. Its seeds germinate in fall beginning as early as September. The first true leaves are heart-shaped, followed by compound leaves with two or more pairs of leaflets and a kidney shaped terminal leaflet. The leaves that emerge in the fall form a small rosette that will overwinter. Once the weather warms in spring, it sends up stalks of small, white flowers followed by slender seed pods known as siliques.

Hairy bittercress leaves have two or more pairs of leaflets and a kidney shaped terminal leaflet. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

Once the seed pods ripen, disturbing the pods can propel the seeds as far as 16 feet from the mother plant. This seed dispersal adds to the soil seed bank and primes the area for another infestation to emerge in early fall. After setting seed, the life cycle is complete and the plants die. Hairy bittercress and other winter annual weed species, like common chickweed and purple deadnettle, are not typically present during the summer months.

Once the seed pods ripen, disturbing the pods will send the seeds flying as far as 16 feet. Photo by Lori Imboden, MSU Extension.

Hairy bittercress is best managed mechanically when it is young. Remove it by hand, hoe or tillage in early fall or early spring before it sets seed. If plants are flowering, composting is discouraged as seeds may develop. To manage this weed using herbicides, the proactive approach would be to use a pre-emergence herbicide in the late summer (late August to early September) to target the plants at the time of germination and prevent successful emergence.

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If plants have already emerged, applying a post-emergence herbicide to actively growing plants before seedpods form may be effective. If using an herbicide, be certain it contains an active ingredient that will target this weed. Always read and follow all labeled instructions to increase effectiveness and prevent personal or environmental harm.

Worst Winter Weeds: Hairy Bittercress

Spring is in the air, little green things are popping up all over, and we all heave a sigh of relief that the blanket of white stuff is finally gone. But beneath the snow that stopped everything in its tracks lurks a hardy, robust little puff of tiny green leaves that virtually grows before your eyes.

(This article was originally published on March 29, 2010. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)

Call it what you will – hairy bittercress, winter bittercress, hairy cress, popping cress – Cardamine hirsuta – is a weed that tries the most forgiving gardener’s patience. Growing worldwide (except in the Antarctic, this genus of the Brassicaceae family numbers more than 150 species, both annual and perennial. The plant is self-pollinating and in bloom throughout the year. It loves moist soil and grows aggressively under those conditions.

As the snow melts, tiny white, pink, or lavender flowers begin to appear. Yes, flowers. This tenacious weed is short-lived, which is good, you say. A life cycle of 6 weeks doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Think again – how many 6-week cycles are there in a year?

One of the biggest problems with bittercress is that, by the time you discover you have a problem, it’s almost too late to do anything about it. The first flowers appear in late February or early March, quickly form seed pods, and mature. If you touch those trigger-happy seed pods, i t’s all over – the pods explode, distributing seeds over an area up to 36 inches around each plant. Those seeds will germinate and begin sprouting with a few days and the cycle begins again, only over a larger area. Small to medium size plants produce about 600 seeds, and larger plants can yield up to 1,000 seeds.

Hairy bittercress is not invasive enough to warrant using herbicides. As soon as new plants appear in February or March, begin pulling them; these are the offspring of the previous fall’s seed crop. Through the season, always pull the seedlings when you see them; they have shallow roots and come away quite easily; however, bits of root left behind are capable of re-rooting under optimum conditions. The key is to get the plants before they set seed, which happens quickly after blooming. Eradicating this weed from large areas is almost impossible, unless you can hoe and remove. Keeping bittercress out of the flower beds is a little easier, but requires diligent hand-weeding to stay ahead of the seed formation. The leaves release a pungent aroma when bruised.

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Hairy bittercress is a problem in greenhouses and nurseries, so be sure to clear off the top 2 to 3 inches of soil before planting anything you purchase. Scoop the soil into a plastic bag and dis card. Keep a close watch on newly planted containers, especially those that are positioned near flower beds. The propulsion factor of bittercress seeds can sneak new plants into your containers while you aren’t looking. Hairy bittercress is a real problem near flagstone patios or walks, brick work, or any hard-scaping that has space between the pieces. This weed does not need much to set down roots – even a small amount of sand between two bricks is plenty.

Weed That Shoots Seeds

Updated July 15, 2021

We continue to offer our full range of plant health care, lawn care, and tree care services throughout central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

Business hours are back to normal (see our hours here), we take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and are always receptive to your preferences for personal interaction.

Updated April 29, 2020

As an essential business, we continue to operate under our normal business hours.

Our crews are working every day to remove and prune trees, perform safety inspections, spray for ticks and mosquitoes, apply lawn and tree treatments, and address any other aspects of tree, shrub, or lawn care.

We’re available 24/7 for emergency tree work, and we’re always available by phone or email to answer your questions or discuss any issues with your trees or lawn.

As a reminder, our arborists and crew members won’t ring your doorbell (we’ll text you when we arrive on your property). Anyone you interact with will be wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from you. You can see more details below in our earlier update.

Thank you for your continued support during these difficult times. And, if you can, we encourage you to get outdoors and enjoy the spring flowers and new green leaves – we all need a little beauty in our lives these days.

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Updated March 23, 2020

Under the Governor’s “stay-at-home” order on 03/22/20, tree care and tree work can continue as long as tree care businesses follow social distancing recommendations. As an “essential service”, we are working hard to make sure our customers’ trees are safe and well-maintained.

We take the health and safety of our customers and employees very seriously, and have consulted with the NJ Board of Tree Experts, International Society for Arboriculture, and the Tree Care Industry Association to make sure that we are following best practices. As a result, we’ve enacted the following additional precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our local communities.

On Your Property

When one of our arborists arrives to inspect your tree(s) and provide an estimate, they will call or text to let you know they’ve arrived (rather than ringing the doorbell). You can stay indoors and communicate by phone while our arborist is on site. If you’d prefer to come outside, we will ensure that the recommended 6-foot distance is maintained.

As always, proposals and work orders will be sent to you by email; we don’t provide hand-written estimates.

You can accept a proposal directly through the link in the email, through the Customer Portal on our website, or by calling the office.

When our crews are on your property, they work independently. You do not need to be home or have any direct contact with them.

Our Crews

We are closely monitoring all employees for any signs of illness. Each team member knows that they should go home immediately if they feel unwell, or stay home if they’re at all concerned. If anyone becomes ill, we will all follow the CDC’s recommendations.

We’ve provided an abundance of alcohol wipes and latex gloves for each employee, are ensuring that they follow the recommended handwashing and disinfecting protocols, and have reinforced that they should maintain as much distance from each other as is practical while at work.

In the Office

In the office, Joy is working tirelessly to keep up with the spring demand and is continuing to schedule appointments for estimates. We’re experiencing a high volume of phone calls so ask for your patience as we try to get to everyone.

Scheduling and ongoing work have so far not been affected. If it becomes necessary to reschedule, we will let you know.

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