Winter’s Weedy Wonderland

January 4, 2020

Early last spring a fellow master gardener and I volunteered to tidy up two pollinator gardens that the Tennessee Aquarium had helped establish at nearby schools. Though it was only March, the weeds were well established and blooming. In fact it was a challenge to bag up the seed pods before they exploded over the ground, sowing the next crop. I returned home to find that my own side yard looked as bad if not worse than the school gardens.


In this part of the world, we have a wonderful array of cool-season annual weeds which germinate in autumn and early winter. Blooming in late winter and early spring, they go to seed and die as the weather warms. The seeds can remain dormant for years so eradication is a long-term project. I will testify that it took seven years of diligent weed control to get the churchyard garden weeds down to a manageable number of perennials, primarily violets and wild onions.


At home, chickweed (left) is a challenge. If I pull it when it has just sprouted, it is easy to control. However, as the weed grows the root system becomes a veritable web which is nearly impossible to completely remove. New plants can and do grow from the broken bits of root left in the ground. If there is any good news here, it must be that chickweed foliage is edible and said to taste like spinach. 


Dandelions (below), violets, plantain and shepherd’s purse are also edible. The seeds of shepherd’s purse may be used as a substitute for mustard. 


A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place, so one man’s weed may be another’s wildflower. When I first moved here, I thought flowering henbit (above) was a pretty purple wildflower. I also love the blue flowers of both corn and field speedwell. The corn speedwell flowers are almost stemless and have white throats while the field speedwell is solid blue. Both form pretty patches in the lawn. As with many pesky weeds, they grow very close to the ground and so are safe from the lawn mower's blades. One control method is to mow high, allowing the grass to shade out the weeds.


Step one in weed control is preventing them from going to seed. Sometimes I gather, bag and dispose of dandelion flowers when I don’t have time to uproot them. Once the weeds are removed by hand or hoe, mulch to prevent seed from reaching the soil and sun from reaching the weed sprouts. I like to apply pre-emergent herbicide before renewing the mulch. Cardboard or newspaper under the mulch provides another layer of protection. 


Once you have weeds out of the garden, try to establish a weed-free perimeter to put some distance between the weed seed source and your desirable plants. The weed-control company Preen has an interactive website,, which is helpful in identifying the top weed culprits in a given area.


Over the mild days of Christmas week, my dog and I enjoyed walking around the neighborhood. I spotted blooming chickweed, dandelions and even henbit. When dry mild weather returns, I can get busy controlling cool-season weeds.


Master Gardener Ann Bartlett does not tolerate the incursion of weeds into the ornamental beds surrounding her home. 

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