Winter Weeds: Bittercress, Dead Nettle, and Common Groundsel

Weeds are a never-ending challenge for farmers and gardeners across the Pacific Northwest. Even in winter, you might be surprised to see many weeds happily growing. Three common weeds you might find right now are hairy bittercress, dead nettle, and common groundsel. Knowing about these weeds can help landowners maintain healthy landscapes and crops in our region.

Hairy bittercress with white flower.

Bittercress is also known as “pop weed” or “shot weed” because of its explosive seed pods.

Hairy Bittercress

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a pesky winter annual weed that shows up in late winter or early spring. Native to Europe, it has spread across the Pacific Northwest. It thrives in moist environments and disturbed soils. Hairy bittercress has small, white flowers and slender, hairy stems. It can quickly spread through lawns, gardens, and agricultural fields. Also known as “shot weed,” it has explosive seed pods that shoot seeds, well, everywhere!

To manage hairy bittercress, it is important to remove plants before they produce seeds. Regular hand-pulling or hoeing can be effective, especially when the soil is moist. Mulching in late summer or early fall can also help prevent its establishment.

Purple dead nettle growing in a field.

A member of the mint family, dead nettle spreads aggressively in gardens.

Dead Nettle

Dead nettle (Lamium spp.) is another common weed found throughout our region. Despite its name, dead nettle is not related to true nettles and does not possess stinging hairs. This weed typically thrives in shaded areas. It has square stems and small, pink or purple flowers. Dead nettle thrives in well-draining soil that retains moisture. Its ability to rapidly colonize disturbed areas makes it a nuisance for gardeners.

Keep the ground covered with healthy plants or ground cover to suppress dead nettle’s growth . You can also pull it out by hand or cover it with mulch to stop it from growing.

Common groundsel with yellow flowers

Toxic to cattle and horses, common groundsel is also known as “old-man-in-the-spring.”

Common Groundsel

Common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is another weed native to Europe that is now widespread in the Pacific Northwest. It has bright yellow flowers and toothed leaves. Its presence indicates that your soil is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Unfortunately, common groundsel can quickly invade gardens, agricultural fields, and waste areas. It produces numerous seeds, even after the plants have been pulled!

Management of this weed includes hand-pulling before the plant sets seed. It can also be controlled by tillage in the fall and early spring. Care should be taken to prevent livestock from grazing on areas where common groundsel grows. This weed can be toxic if ingested in large quantities.

Additional Information

Invasive weeds, including these winter weeds, can give us clues to the health of our soil in our lawns, landscapes, gardens, and pastures. This article, Using Weeds to Read the Soil, is both interesting and informative. Follow the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Four Soil Health Principles to improve your soils and deter invasive weeds.
Visit the District’s WeedWise Program is a wonderful resource for questions about invasive weeds and how to manage them.

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Clackamas SWCD