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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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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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