Gardening Blog

The war on weeds: stork’s bill

I had the unfortunate pleasure of being introduced to a new weed last year, one I had never seen before, but since then, I’ve seen it plenty.

This is the mess my broccoli is trying to survive in. The predominant plant you see at centre, with the divided, pinnate leaves and reddish stems, is known as stork’s bill (Erodium cicutarium). It first showed up in the carrot patch, and maybe because of the similarity of the leaves, I didn’t really notice it until these pretty purple-pink, five-petaled flowers showed up. My smallest girls loved to pick the tiny flowers for fairy stories, and so I was somewhat forgiving of this plant, though it began to pop up beyond the carrots. Cleaning up last fall, I noticed hairy, pointy little seed capsules catching on my cloth gloves. They looked uncannily like… a bird’s bill? Indeed. And they hitched a ride on almost anything they touched. This did not bode well, and sure enough, this spring, the still-anonymous weed had taken over half the veggie patch.

Time for an education.

After a little Google digging and a simultaneous call to my horty sister, we ID’ed this little demon and I’m horrified. “New seedlings emerge very quickly after each tillage operation in the summerfallow. Therefore, it is not unusual to have five or six growths of this weed during the summerfallow year,” says the Saskatchewan government agriculture┬ásite. No wonder it’s everywhere. The good news: though it is a prolific germinator, it is an annual, and only reproduces from seed. I was having waking nightmares of bits of left-behind leaves regenerating themselves… ┬áthe roots uttering diabolical chuckles and sending out rhizomes to all quarters…

I did find it interesting to read that one of the recommended control measures for this weed is a planting of fall rye. When I got to thinking about it, it’s true: In the north end of the veggie patch, where I planted fall rye the last two years simply for green manure, there is very little stork’s bill. It’s the south end that’s overrun. Looks like I’ll be buying more rye seed this fall. After a whole lot of weed pulling… sorry girls, use the phlox for your fairy flowers. I don’t want any more of those poky seeds in my gloves or the soil.

My flowers are more purple than this drawing shows, but those pointy little seed heads are EXACTLY the same.

 

 

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