What Is Bittercress?

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Bittercress, scientifically known as Cardamine spp., is a broad term encompassing several different species of flowering plants. Commonly referred to as "bittercress" due to the pungent taste of its leaves, this weed can be a persistent problem in lawns, gardens, and natural areas.

Bittercress is a common weed that can quickly take over your outdoor spaces and is often considered a nuisance weed. Its rapid growth and ability to thrive in various conditions make it a formidable opponent. Many varieties of bittercress can pop up in your lawn, including some varieties that are edible and used in a variety of recipes. In this blog post, we'll explore what bittercress is, delve into the most common types, understand its lifecycle, and provide practical strategies for managing and controlling this persistent weed.

Most Common Types Of Bittercress

bittercress flowers and leaves

Bittercress is a fast-growing plant that can reach heights of up to 12 inches. It has small, white flowers and star-shaped leaves. Bittercress is often found in moist, shady areas, such as lawns, gardens, and forests.

  • Hairy bittercress is the most common type of bittercress. It is a low-growing plant with small, white flowers and hairy leaves. Hairy bittercress is often found in lawns and gardens.
  • Wavy bittercress is another common type of bittercress. It is similar to hairy bittercress, but it has wavy leaves. Wavy bittercress is often found in moist, shady areas, such as forests and streams.
  • Narrowleaf bittercress is a less common type of bittercress. It is a tall-growing plant with narrow leaves and small, white flowers. Narrowleaf bittercress is often found in forests and along roadsides.
  • Pennsylvania bittercress is a native North American plant similar to hairy bittercress. It is often found in moist, shady areas, such as forests and streams.
  • Small-flowered bittercress is a small, delicate plant with small, white flowers. It is often found in moist, sandy areas, such as riverbanks and beaches.

The Life Cycle Of Bittercress

Despite the different varieties of bittercress, their life cycle is nearly identical. The life cycle of bittercress is continuous, and the plant can reproduce throughout the year in warm climates. However, bittercress is most common in the spring and fall, when temperatures are more favorable for seed germination and seedling growth.

  • Reproduction: Bittercress reproduces by seed. A single plant can produce up to 10,000 seeds. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 5 years.
  • Germination: Bittercress seeds germinate in the spring or fall, when temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds need moisture to germinate, so they are more likely to germinate in wet areas.
  • Seedling growth: Bittercress seedlings grow quickly and can reach maturity within 6 to 8 weeks. Bittercress seedlings have a shallow root system, which makes them easy to uproot.
  • Flowering: Bittercress flowers in the spring or fall. The flowers are small and white, with four petals.
  • Fruit and seed production: Bittercress produces fruit in the form of a small pod. The pod contains the seeds. When the pod is ripe, it splits open and the seeds are dispersed.
  • Dispersal: Bittercress seeds are dispersed by wind, water, and animals. The seeds can travel long distances on the wind, and they can also be spread by water splashing from infected plants to healthy plants. Animals can also spread bittercress seeds by transferring them on their fur or feathers.

Controlling & Managing Bittercress

Bittercress is a fast-growing weed with a shallow root system, which makes it difficult to control. Bittercress can also spread quickly by seed, making it even more challenging to eradicate.

Controlling Bittercress

Controlling bittercress requires a combination of strategies to prevent its spread and ensure its effective management.

  • Hand pulling: Hand pulling is an effective way to control small infestations of bittercress. Be sure to remove the entire plant, including the roots, to prevent it from regrowing.
  • Mowing: Mowing can help to control bittercress by preventing it from flowering and producing seed. However, it is important to mow at the correct height. Mowing too low can damage desirable plants and make them more susceptible to weed invasion.
  • Herbicides: Herbicides can be used to control bittercress, but it is important to choose a herbicide that is labeled explicitly for bittercress control. Be sure to follow the directions on the herbicide label carefully.

Managing Bittercress

In addition to controlling bittercress, there are a number of things you can do to manage it and prevent it from spreading. These include:

  • Maintain a healthy lawn: A healthy lawn is less susceptible to weed invasion. This means watering your lawn regularly, fertilizing it properly, and mowing it at the correct height.
  • Avoid overwatering: Bittercress prefers moist conditions, so it is important to avoid overwatering your lawn. Water deeply and infrequently, and allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
  • Remove bittercress as soon as you see it: The sooner you remove bittercress, the less likely it is to spread. You can remove bittercress by hand pulling it or by using a weed puller.
  • Plant-resistant varieties: Some varieties of grass and other plants are more resistant to bittercress than others. When choosing grass seed or plants, look for varieties that are known to be resistant to bittercress.

By following these tips, you can control and manage bittercress and keep your lawn and garden healthy and looking its best. Here are some additional tips for controlling bittercress:

  • Use a pre-emergent herbicide: A pre-emergent herbicide can be used to prevent bittercress seeds from germinating. Apply the herbicide in the early spring, before the bittercress seeds germinate.
  • Use a post-emergent herbicide: A post-emergent herbicide can be used to kill bittercress plants that have already germinated. Apply the herbicide to the bittercress plants when they are young and actively growing.
  • Spot-treat bittercress: If you only have a few bittercress plants, you can spot treat them with an herbicide. Be sure to follow the directions on the herbicide label carefully.
  • Mulch: Mulching can help to prevent bittercress seeds from germinating and can also help to suppress the growth of existing bittercress plants. Use a thick layer of mulch, such as bark chips or wood chips, to cover the soil around your plants.

Bittercress, with its persistent nature and rapid growth, can be a formidable adversary in your outdoor spaces. Understanding the different types of bittercress, its life cycle, and employing effective control strategies is vital for keeping this weed at bay. By implementing targeted approaches to prevent seed production, practicing good cultural maintenance, and staying vigilant, you can ensure a healthier, weed-free garden and lawn.