Some gardeners call it the Velcro plant. Others know it as cleavers or sticky weed. My favorite common name for Galium aparine? Sticky Willy.
Some enterprising folks dry and roast sticky Willy seeds and use them as a caffeine-free coffee substitute, according to “Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest.”
To prepare a spring tonic, she makes a tincture of sticky Willy by steeping crushed plants in a jar with vodka for about six weeks. Then she strains and dilutes it to make the tonic. Hmm. Add a squeeze of lime and a splash of simple syrup and this sounds like a tonic that could catch on at happy hours around town. A sticky Willy on the rocks?
Now that I know that sticky Willy is much more than a weed, am I finding it less annoying? Not really. I might consider keeping a small patch of it in a side yard, but I’m ready for it to be gone and, if possible, stay gone from my backyard.
Last weekend, after two hours of nonstop weed pulling (henbit and chickweed as well as S. Willy), I removed strands of sticky Willy from my pant legs, my work boots – and the back of my head. Ugh.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) grow rapidly during warm weather. The sticky stems are able to scramble around the garden, smothering small, cultivated plants and setting masses of seed. It’s usually introduced on the coats of animals, birds’ feathers or human clothing. Its lifecycle is approximately eight weeks from germination to setting seed.
freshly-cultivated ground in borders, established flowerbeds, pots, vegetable plots
A short-lived plant that grows sticky mats of foliage, which can swamp cultivated plants. It produces sticky seeds, which can be spread around the garden by animals and on clothing.
Remove cleavers regularly by hand, or hoe off young seedlings before they set seed. Avoid getting seeds on clothing, as this can inadvertently spread it around the garden. Mulch borders with a 5cm layer of garden compost or composted bark to suppress seedlings.
Apply a contact weedkiller when the plants are young and before they get a chance to flower.
Although it might sound like all fun and games, the weeds spread by people are not only difficult to contain, they’re costly for everyone. Farmers lose an estimated $7.4 billion each year in productivity to eradicate these pest plants. Humans are spreading these seeds at a rate of 500 million to one billion seeds a year in cars alone!
Weed seeds spread in a variety of ways, whether traveling by water, by air, or on animals. The group of weeds nicknamed the “hitchhikers” are seeds that stick to clothing and fur, making it difficult to dislodge them immediately. Their variously barbed adaptations ensure that the seeds will travel far and wide via animal locomotion, and most can be eventually shaken off down the road somewhere.
What are Hitchhiker Weeds?
You can help slow the spread of these hitchhikers by carefully inspecting your clothing and pets before emerging from a wild area full of seeding plants, making sure to leave those unwanted weeds behind. Also, reseeding disturbed areas like your garden plot with a cover crop can ensure that there’s too much competition for hitchhikers to thrive.
Once those weeds emerge, digging them out is the only cure. Make sure to get three to four inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) of root when the plant is young, or else it’ll grow back from root fragments. If your problem plant is already flowering or going to seed, you can clip it at the ground and carefully bag it for disposal – composting will not destroy many of these types of weeds.
Although the weeds within crop stands are annoying, those that appear in fields can be downright dangerous for grazing animals like horses and cattle.