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The P&PDL Picture of the Week
for 4 November 2002


Glenn Nice, Extension Weed Science, Botany and Plant Pathology
Tom Bauman, Extension Weed Science, Botany and Plant Pathology
Bill Johnson, Extension Weed Science, Botany and Plant Pathology

Days getting shorter and temperatures dropping signal the coming of the winter via fall. It also is a signal of the coming of winter annuals. One common winter annual in Indiana yards is common chickweed (Stellaria media). This weed often forms dense patches and can speckle a crushed rock driveway in the fall (Fig. 1). In shady cool areas, such as under a tree, common chickweed may last throughout the summer becoming a perennial.

Although often prostrate, common chickweed can be erect, reaching as tall as 15 inches. This light green plant is often most recognizable when it flowers in the spring - little white flowers, 1/10 to 1/5 of an inch wide, with five deeply lobed petals. These deeply lobed petals can look like they are ten petals when there are just five. Leaves are opposite and egg to broadly elliptic in shape. A little imagination and the leaves might look like a mouse’s ear.

Hence its cousin mouseear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum). The two can be told apart by the fuzzy appearance of mouseear chickweed’s leaves. Common chickweed has a hairless leaf. Lower leaves have hairy petioles (stalk attaching the leaf to the stem), but are lacking on the upper leaves. Keeping common chickweed within tolerable levels is not an easy task. In many cases it can find its way through mulches and rocks. In the case of my driveway, it has found its way to the surface through crushed rock. In the case of an isolated patch on the edge of a healthy lawn just pulling it up may do the job. However, it would be wise to expect it back in the future.

In other cases a herbicide may be needed. Always read and follow pesticide labels when using any pesticide. A fall or spring application of dicamba can provide good results. 2,4-D does not provide substantial control. MSMA is another herbicide that has activity on chickweed and can be found in several of the herbicides available for lawns. Herbicides containing triclopyr or clopyralid (Confront) can also be used in controlling chickweed in the lawn. It is important to make sure these herbicides don’t come in contact with desired broadleaf plants. However, they are relatively safe to use in your established lawns (see label for specifics). In areas where desirable vegetation is not present, such as cracks in your paved driveway, glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide found in several home-use products, such as Roundup, has good activity on chickweed. In the case of glyphosate, don’t let it come in contact with any desirable vegetation, including your grass.

Click on the small image to view a larger image.

Chickweed growing in gravel

Erect chickweed

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Last updated: 5 November 2002/amd
The Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University