Warm winter encouraged bitter new crop of weeds

What is this new weed all over my place? It has a thin stem and little white flowers. The little leaves are in a circle around the plant base. Weirdly, it also has needles on the stems. There are so many of these stems in my lawn and beds, I thought they were grass! What do I do?

Weed quickly! Those "needles" are seed pods that will explode open and project their seeds everywhere. Welcome to hairy bittercress, a weed having a banner year. Though flourishing now, this is a winter annual weed and most of its seeds germinated last fall. All winter it quietly grew, and growth sped up in spring. Apparently it relished our wet fall and warm winter (as did chickweed).

In the lawn, mow soon so that the flower and seeds don't mature. In beds, weeding by hand is easy because of its small root system. If that's too hard, you can just pull or cut off all the flowers. If the seeds are already mature and popping, bag the clippings or at least direct the clipping away from beds.

Try to stuff hand-pulled plants in a bag quickly to keep seeds from escaping. There will be a few maverick plants all season. Pull immediately.

My soil test said to apply phosphorus to my vegetable garden, but doesn't Maryland's new fertilizer law forbid phosphorus?

Not at all. That law is for lawns. The new law came about because excess phosphorus and nitrogen create dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, killing crabs and other aquatic plants and animals. While nitrogen is good for lawns when applied in the fall in the proper amount, phosphorus needn't be applied each year. This law doesn't apply to vegetable gardens, because vegetable crops have different needs. You'll be able to find garden fertilizers containing phosphorus as usual, especially at stores that cater to backyard vegetable growers.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the week


Raphanus sativus

Young gardeners can be amazed at radishes' quick maturity, and all gardeners enjoy them for spiking up a spring salad. Radishes may be planted as soon as the soil is workable, allowing you to plant a new crop every couple of weeks. Experienced gardeners often use a row of radishes to mark where a row of carrots or other slow-germinating crops have been planted. Radishes grow best when soil temperatures are between 55 to 65 degrees.

Place seeds about a half-inch deep in rows about 9 inches apart in full sun; later thin plants 3/4 to 1 inch apart. Keep them moist. Harvest as soon as the edible root gets about 1 inch around (in about three to six weeks). Allowing them to get too large results in hot, pithy radishes.

Popular spring varieties with bright red or red-and-white roots include Cherry Belle, Early Scarlet Globe, Champion and Sparkler. —Bob Orazi

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