Not everything that grows in your garden or lawn is worth preserving. Not least chickweed which is as invasive a plant as they come. Your first impulse is to use weed killers or herbicides to get rid of the pesky chickweed. But that doesn’t always work for many reasons, not least the local regulations that might prohibit you from using pesticides in your lawn or garden.
But the chickweed is such a tricky weed to manage as it weaves through other plants and turfgrass making it hard to single them out even with a selective herbicide. This calls for imaginative solutions to outwit the crafty chickweed. Here we explore the best ways to kill chickweed and the preventive measure to make sure it doesn’t come back.
What is Chickweed?
Originally from Europe, chickweed (Stellaria media) has managed to invade just about every lawn, garden, public park, and vacant lot in every corner of the globe. It’s a success story that every horticulturalist wishes just wasn’t so successful. That doesn’t mean that the chickweed is not a pretty plant in its own right. The succulent leaves and pretty little white flowers make it a suitable annual for any garden. Except that it really isn’t.
As an invasive plant, the chickweed along with its cousin, the mouse-ear chickweed, tends to spread across a vast area of your lawn or garden. It covers the ground fast and grows in thick mats that leave little room for anything else to grow. Only with the mouse-ear chickweed you also get hairy leaves that ruin your well-manicured lawn and suffocate the other plants in the garden.
While it flourishes in wet and waterlogged soil, chickweed is so adaptable, it can thrive in the most adverse conditions and all types of soil. And don’t let the fact that it’s an annual deceive you either. This is one weed that grows all year round. It flowers, produces seeds, and spreads them around to germinate all within a matter of weeks.
What makes it a truly invasive plant that’s hard to control is that chickweed doesn’t just propagate using seeds. It can grow out of nodes in its stem to create a new plant that soon spreads and multiplies. This brings up the question, how do you kill a plant with so many tricks up its sleeve?
Chickweed Management in your Lawn
Before you fire up your browser and start looking for a herbicide to kill the chickweed in your lawn, it might be worth it to consider other methods. For one thing, chemical weed killers and even organic herbicides are not risk-free. They have side effects and the soil remains contaminated for long periods of time depending on the type of pesticide you use.
A better option is to try to make it harder for the invasive chickweed to grow in your lawn. How do you do that? Here are three ways to manage and control chickweed in your lawn without introducing chemicals into the soil.
Mow the Lawn
This sounds so intuitive that it might not need mentioning. Paradoxically, it’s the last thing anybody thinks about. When you see a patch of your lawn covered with ugly chickweed and your bluegrass is suffocating under it, the first thing you want to do is spray the pesky weed and get rid of it immediately. But not so fast. Let’s try to mow the lawn.
When you mow your lawn, you’re practically interfering and interrupting the lifecycle of the chickweed. Rather than let it live its natural life to maturity, flower, make seeds, and start a new life, you’re cutting this vicious cycle short. In effect, you’re preventing it from having free reign in your lawn to grow and spread the seeds.
Regular mowing makes it hard for the weed to flower which is an important step to produce seeds. So make it a habit to mow that part of your lawn at least once a week to keep the chickweed from growing and spreading to other parts of the lawn. As for the rest of the lawn, also keep the grass neatly mowed. Once the grass grows above 4 inches high it becomes fertile ground for chickweed. So cut it down to keep chickweed at bay.
Till the Soil
But what if you can’t mow the lawn for some reason? What if the chickweed is growing in an area that you cannot use a mower on? Or what if you have a garden, not a lawn? What would you do to stop the spread of the invasive chickweed? Well, you can always till the soil. Turn the soil upside down and keep tilling it. This will make it hard for chickweed to establish roots or enjoy a peaceful lifecycle.
This doesn’t mean that you keep your garden a wasteland all the time. You just need to till the soil between plants. This helps cover the weeds under a thick layer of soil to cut off the sunlight and air. It also brings the roots up to die effectively killing it dead. You can use a hoe or spades to turn the soil every time before you plant new seeds. Make sure the top 8 inches of the soil is dug up.
Smother the Chickweed
Between mowing the grass and tilling the soil, there will be situations where you can do neither of them. Think of when you have a thriving rosebed or that tomato garden. You can’t really use a mower there or even a hoe to turn the soil upside down. This calls for a more drastic solution where you try to cut the oxygen supply from the invasive chickweed.
The best way to do that is to use a covering that cuts off both light and air. Anything from a tarp to a newspaper or even mulch will do. You will also need weights and a sturdy shovel. Usually, the tarp or canvas will work best since they’re thick and are easy to apply. Spread the covering over the infected area and place the weights at strategic points to keep the wind from blowing away the canvas.
If you’re using mulch, make sure to spread it evenly and it’s a thick layer that totally covers the area. Keep the covering for at least 2 weeks before you remove it to check how the chickweed is doing. If it’s still growing or not totally dead, cover it again for another week or so.
Once you’re rid of the chickweed, till the soil and sow new seeds. Keep an eye out of any chickweeds sprouts that you might have missed with your smothering.
How to Kill Chickweed in your Garden
If none of the chickweed management techniques we discussed so far work for you, maybe it’s time to up your game. Maybe you need to look for something more efficient that doesn’t take such a long time to work the way smothering the chickweed does. Here you have two options. Either to go with a homemade weed killer or buy a commercial herbicide.
Vinegar as a Chickweed Killer
One of the easiest materials you can find around the house is vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid, although in smaller quantities than in commercial vinegar-based herbicides, and it helps to combat invasive plants including chickweed. If you want to get good results, look for horticultural vinegar. Unlike white vinegar, there’s a high concentration of acetic acid in horticultural vinegar making it more effective against weeds.
- Use the right protective gear such as long sleeve shirts and eyeglasses.
- Don’t wear shorts or have your feet exposed either. Long pants and shoes will protect your skin.
- Fill a spray can with two cups of horticultural vinegar.
- Put on your gloves and get to work on the chickweeds.
- Soak the weeds from top to bottom with the vinegar.
- Spray around the base of the chickweeds to cover any nodes in the plants.
- Aim for the roots and spray generously.
- If it rains, repeat your vinegar treatment since the rain washes away the vinegar.
- Give the chickweed the vinegar treatment every other day until it dies completely.
- Vinegar spray is a selective method of killing chickweed that you can use on other types of weed or invasive plants you want to get rid of.
When all else fails, you’re left with no other option but to use commercial herbicides. There are two types you can use. Organic herbicides and chemical pesticides. Each has its advantages and downsides.
Organic herbicides are made of natural materials without the need to use synthetic chemicals produced in the lab. They usually have a little environmental impact than chemical herbicides and will not pose any danger to pets or children in the house.
Chemical pesticides have a faster effect and would kill the chickweed in a short time. However, they also contaminate the soil and you won’t be able to grow anything in that area you sprayed for weeks if not months. There’s usually a tradeoff when you choose the right method to deal with chickweed. However, always being vigilant and taking precautions against the spread of the invasive chickweed are the right approaches to killing and controlling this weed in your garden or lawn.