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Eeek, it's weed season already!

Top 5 problem plants to get rid of while they're small

Seedling of crabgrass weed
Crabgrass is easiest to eradicate when it's about this size. (Photo by  Jack Kelly Clark, courtesy UCIPM)

Bedstraw is the scourge of pet
owners. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

The only time I envy gardeners living in snow country is late winter. They have white landscapes to look at. We have weeds.

The mild temperatures and just enough rain this time of year have weeds popping out all over. Some aren't even noticeable, tucked under larger plants or hiding for now under loose mulch. But they're there, and the sooner they're dealt with the better.

Why are weeds bad? Well, they suck up nutrients and water that other plants need. They're so well adapted that they spread like crazy. And they provide early food for that other scourge of the garden: "bad guy" insects. I was amazed to learn how many pests migrate from weeds to good plants during the spring.

So keep on top of the weeds and you keep on top of two problems. They're never completely eliminated, but at least they can be kept under control.

Little bittercress weed with white flower
Little bittercress produces pods that can spread seeds
several feet when they pop open. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

And please, avoid using herbicides to kill weeds if at all possible. Chemicals, especially, can have unknown long-term effects. Integrated pest management is the preferred way to go, for the health of you and your garden. The
UC IPM program offers excellent environmentally friendly solutions to weeds .

Here are just five currently sprouting weeds that are crucial to hoe or dig out early:

1) Catchweed bedstraw ( Galium aparine ), also called cleavers and stickyweed, among others. Its sticky hairs catch on everything: T-shirts, socks, cat fur,  dogs' tails, you name it. And it spreads that way. If allowed to grow large, it forms little burrs that are even harder to pull out of  fur or socks.

2) Little bittercress ( Cardamine oligoosperma ), also known as shotweed or snapweed. I call this weed "pop-bead plant" because of the way the seeds explode out of their seed pod when you so much as brush past it. Dig it up before or while it's flowering to prevent it spreading far and wide.

Puncturevine with flower. (Photo by Jack Kelly
Clark, courtesy UCIPM)

3) Puncturevine ( Tribulus terrestris ), also called goathead. This is the scourge of bicyclists and pet owners.  It produces nasty barbed seeds that can puncture tires and hurt paws.

4) Crabgrasses ( Digitaria ssp.) The smooth-leaf one ( Digitaria ischaemum ) is most often found in turf, the one called large crabgrass ( Digitaria sanguinalis ) most often grows in gardens. Get 'em out while they're seedlings and you'll avoid having those big mats of soil-hogging grasses later.

Small green plant

This is a bindweed seedling. Don't let it get much
bigger. (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, courtesy UCIPM)

5) Field bindweed ( Convolvulus arvensis ). This terrible stuff never goes away: The rhizomes overwinter, then sprout as the weather warms. It also sprouts from seeds that can survive decades. Catch it early, before its white flowers appear (usually in April and later) and spread more seeds.

Of course, there are many, many more. To identify a weed, check the UC IPM Weed Gallery . Just don't let the (ahem) grass grow under your feet before getting those weeds gone.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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