IN THE GARDEN; Don’t Let Those Sticky Seeds Get Around As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share. Give this article By Joan Lee Faust How to Get Rid of Sticky Willy. Sticky willy (Galium aparine) goes by many different, descriptive common names including bedstraw, catchweed, beggar’s lice, scratchweed and velcro plant. This annual plant is often an unwanted weed where it invades roadsides, home landscapes and vegetable or flower gardens, often … Cleavers ( Galium aparine ), with its characteristic ‘sticky’ seeds, is easily introduced to gardens from uncultivated land and can become a nuisance in beds and borders.
IN THE GARDEN; Don’t Let Those Sticky Seeds Get Around
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By Joan Lee Faust
- Nov. 21, 1999
THERE is more to fall cleanup than raking or blowing leaves away. Although such effort should have top priority to allow the green grass underneath to breathe.
While tending to the chore of cutting down browned stalks, all that are left of bygone bloom, be wary of the problem of garden debris. It ends up on sweat shirts, pants and shoes and once the yard cleanup is over, it often takes just as long to shake off the duff from the outfit. What is that stuff?
They are called stick-tight seeds. It is nature’s way of getting around. Or to put it another way, you have participated in the common methods of seed dispersal. Those who have pets that are allowed to run free near a field or along a rural street know this problem.
Sometimes the results are just as obvious with pets who spend time running around the garden. Most common of the stick-to-fur weed seeds are those burdocks with the hooked spines. Fortunately, most gardeners are able to recognize this weed and pull it up to to keep it out of their gardens. But when pets run in fields or along roadways, they do get into trouble.
Sometimes the burdocks have to be cut from the fur, they stick so tightly. Other troublemakers are members of the bidens clan. Their name actually means ”two teeth.” These two-pronged seeds from plants commonly called stick tights or beggars’ ticks are equal nuisance makers. They not only stick to fur and feathers but also seem to adhere easily to shoe laces as well. What is happening?
The seeds are traveling and sticking to anything they can grab on to, either fabric or fur. Or another common seed carrier are the feathers of birds. Some seeds such as those of the Eupatorium clan are hard to avoid. The old, browned stalks of these tall, elegant plants replace the beautiful statures of the joe-pye weeds or the stately bonesets. These native plants are often used at the backs of borders for their tall finesse that they add to any scene.
But now, they are almost ugly in their fallen state and down they must come. Getting under these stalks to prune them to near ground level means climbing under large floppy stalks. This is when the seeds cling to fabric and even get in your hair.
All of the bedstraws have sticky habits, too. Although the plants are low to the ground, the seeds do have a way of traveling far and wide by hooking a free ride. Some of the feathery goldenrods have a way of messing up things, too, but they are forgiven for their long, late display of color. So are the mums forgiven, although their seeds are better behaved.
Although impatiens seeds do not stick to fabric, they provide a practical lesson in seed dispersal. No wonder they have earned the nickname ”touch me not.” Where early frosts have not destroyed these plants, look underneath the protected leaves to see the spirally fruit. Touch it and the seeds explode. When volunteers of tiny seedlings appear in pots and borders next summer, you can recall where these seeds come from.
Another fascinating way of seed dispersal, too often overlooked, are the unusual pointed seed pods of the geranium clan. These plants are not named cranesbills without reason. The tiny seeds form at the tips of the cranelike formation and sling off, which is one reason to explain why a geranium sprouts over here, when it was planted over there.
In the spring, the feathery stage of the dandelion flower is nothing more than another form of seed dispersal. What is thought of as a lovely soft puff to blow is just the dandelion’s way of getting around. At the base of these light parachutes is a seed. And where it lands, of course, is where the seed grows.
This helps to explain why there are so many dandelions in the lawn come summer. Another dramatic dispersal of seed is demonstrated by the explosive nature of the witch hazel seed. The fat pods of seed form soon after the flowers appear either in late fall or early spring, depending on the particular species. When ripe, the fat seed capsule opens to explode its black seed out on the ground.
Seed travels for some distance, too. One of the most dramatic forms of seed dispersal is by water. One of the largest seeds to be dispersed this way is a coconut, which falls from palm trees. It is easily carried off by ocean waters to distant lands, where it lands on beaches and may eventually sprout into palm trees. This may help explain why the tropical islands are so often forested right down to the water’s edge.
Seed dispersal is not always a good thing, referring again to those who work outdoors. Be careful where the unwanted seeds are discarded when found on clothing. Throw them in the trash, never on the compost pile.
How to Get Rid of Sticky Willy
Perhaps best known as Sticky Willy, Galium aparine – USDA growing zones 3 to 7 – is an annual plant, largely considered to be a weed. With some basic steps, however, the savvy gardener can effectively remove it from his or her yard. Also known as Goosegrass, Coachweed, Catchweed and Cleavers, it can cause some serious problems for both gardeners and farmers.
Why Get Rid of Sticky Willy?
The sap of the plant can cause severe skin irritation in people who are sensitive to it. If left unchecked, the plant can also severely hinder other plants’ ability to grow. If left unchecked in agricultural operations, the plants can reduce crop yield in some species by between 30 and 60 percent.
The seeds and foliage of Sticky Willy can contaminate the wool and fur of some livestock raised for the production of clothing. If animals consume it, it can inflame their digestive tracts. Its seeds can get stuck in the fur of animals and is very difficult to remove. It can also carry with it different diseases and pests.
Identifying Sticky Willy by Its Small Spines
Sticky Willy is quite easy to identify, thanks to the downward-pointing brown prickles on its leaves – which appear in groups of between six and eight – and stems. Its oblong-shaped eggs have slightly notched tips. Its seed leaves, or cotyledons, are smooth, however. If allowed to mature, Sticky Willy can grow to be 40 inches tall. Large groups of the plants often spread in dense mats over the ground, made all the more dense by their spines. Their flowers are four-parted and often white or greenish-white.
The weed can be found around the world. Most often, Sticky Willy grows in moist and shady areas such as areas filled with waste, on roadsides and in gardens. The species can also affect the growing of hay, rapeseed, sugar beets and various cereals.
Removing Sticky Willy Is Harder Than You Think
Getting rid of a Sticky Willy plant is easy enough; in fact, it’s just a matter of pulling it from the ground. However, each plant can have between 300 and 400 seeds, which spread readily and can lie dormant in soil for six years.
The best way to remove the plants for good is to get them out of the soil before the plants flower and develop their seeds — ideally in the early spring. This can be done using a hoe or another tool that gets to the roots, or by hand. As the plant’s sap is irritating, wearing gloves is an important step if you choose the latter option. If the plant has already flowered, attempting to remove it will only spread the seeds.
Applying a heavy layer of organic mulch or using plastic mulch can also prevent the seeds from reaching the soil or getting enough light to grow.
Gardeners looking to avoid Sticky Willy near their homes should be sure to brush down their clothing and pets after walking in areas where the weed is commonly found, or after exposure. Like most parts of the plant, the seeds are covered in tiny barbs that can stick to cloth or fur easily. The seeds spread easily, and even a few of the hardy seeds can cause an outbreak in a garden.
Chemical Solutions for Galium Aparine
Some herbicides have proven to be effective in removing the pesky plant. Contact herbicides containing acetic, fatty or pelargonic acids can scorch off Sticky Willy’s foliage, including its seed leaves. However, these can damage nearby plants, so covering desirable garden plants is recommended, at least until the chemicals dry on the weed foliage.
Glyphosate can be used in the same way, but it’s more important to ensure none of it gets on any other plants.
Cleavers (Galium aparine), with its characteristic ‘sticky’ seeds, is easily introduced to gardens from uncultivated land and can become a nuisance in beds and borders.
Common name Cleavers, goosegrass, sticky willie
Botanical name Galium aparine
Areas affected Beds and borders, hedgerows and uncultivated ground
Main causes Easily distributed seed produced in large quantities
Timing Seen spring-autumn; treat during growing season
What is cleavers?
Cleavers is a common annual weed native to hedgerows, scrub and arable land, which can spread to gardens on the fur of animals and clothing of passers-by. Although seedlings usually appear singly, rather than en masse like many other common weeds, the numerous and easily distributed seeds mean the weed can quickly establish in gardens if not controlled promptly.
Cleavers can be a good addition to a wildlife garden, as it provides food for the caterpillars of many butterfly and moth species, including the impressive hummingbird hawk moth.
Butterflies in your garden
Moths in your garden
This page looks at options for gardeners when cleavers are becoming a problem.
Weak, sprawling stems, up to 1m (39in) long bear whorls of 6-8 long, slender green leaves with a prominent central vein. Tiny greenish-white flowers are borne in branching clusters from May to August and develop into round, green or purple fruits 3-5mm in diameter. Stems, leaves and seed have stiff hooked hairs.
The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.
- Hand-pulling or hoeing of weed seedlings is the easiest way to control this weed, but is time consuming and needs doing promptly – before plants flower and set seed – to be effective. Use gloves if grasping stems directly. As seeds can lie dormant in the soil for long periods of time, this task will be on-going.
- To help reduce the number of seeds introduced to the garden, brush down clothing and pet fur following walks on arable or uncultivated land where the weed is most commonly found. It is also important to avoid adding any mature weeds, which have set seed, to a home compost bin.
- To prevent germination of weed seedlings, apply an opaque mulching film or layer of bulky organic mulch, such as woodchips, to the soil at a depth of at least 8cm (3in).
In beds and borders
Non-selective contact herbicides containing acetic acid (eg. Weedol Gun! Fast Acting, Roundup Speed Ultra or Spot On Fast Acting Weedkiller), fatty acids (eg. SBM Job Done Garden Ultrafast Weedkiller) or pelargonic acid (Doff 24/7 Fast Acting Weedkiller, Resolva Xpress Weedkiller or Roundup NL Weed Control) can be used in such situations to scorch off foliage. Take care if applying such herbicides between ornamental plants by covering them with plastic sheeting whilst spraying. The covers can be removed once the spray has dried onto the weed foliage.
The systemic non-selective herbicide glyphosate can be used in the same way, but it is particularly important to avoid spray or spray drift coming into contact with garden plants. If treating weeds in the immediate vicinity of garden plants, apply carefully using a ready-to-use spray in cool, calm weather. Protect branches and shoots by tying them aside, or by using covers or screens. Make sure weed foliage has dried before releasing branches or removing coverings.
Around established trees and shrubs
SBM Job done Tough Weedkiller (ready-to-use only), SBM Job done Path Weedkiller (ready-to-use only) and Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican and can be applied once a season to natural surfaces where no plants are to be grown, and can also be applied under and around established woody trees and shrubs. This product kills off existing small green growth and prevents or checks developing growth. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants.
Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 3a and 5).