Chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a familiar sight in many gardens. With large quantities of seed produced throughout the year, this common annual weed can become a nuisance in beds and borders.

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Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Quick facts

Common name Chickweed
Botanical name Stellaria media
Areas affected Beds and borders, roadsides and uncultivated ground
Main causes Large numbers of easily distributable seed produced throughout the growing season
Timing Seen all year; treat from spring to autumn

What is chickweed?

Chickweed is a common annual weed of both cultivated and bare ground. Although it prefers a rich soil, and so can be a good indicator of soil fertility, it is adaptable to a range of growing conditions. Plants produce large quantities of quickly germinating seed throughout the year and can easily smother beds and borders if not promptly controlled.

The seeds of chickweed are a food source for chaffinches and other small birds. Chickweed also provides food for insects, including several species of ground beetles. Although this plant can be beneficial to wildlife, gardeners may want to control its spread. This page looks at options for gardeners when chickweed is becoming a problem.

Appearance

A central mass of shallow, fibrous roots gives rise to a vigorous clump of prostrate stems to 35cm (13in) tall, with a single line of hairs along their length. Bright green pointed oval leaves are borne in opposite pairs which fold towards each other in the evening to protect tender new growth.

Tiny, white, star-shaped flowers are borne singly in leaf axils and in clusters at stem tips at any time of year, but are most noticeable in spring and autumn. The flowers have 5 very deeply divided petals and last only a day or two.

The problem

Seeds are produced in large quantities, with an individual plant able to produce 1300 seeds. It takes only 5-6 weeks from germination to seed dispersal and plants are capable of 4-5 generations per year.

The seeds are also easily distributed in a number of ways, including in top-soil, compost, manures and on muddy boots and can remain viable after passing through the digestive tracts of birds and animals and following immersion in salt water. Seed buried in soil can remain viable for up to 25 years and will germinate quickly if brought to the surface by cultivation.

Although individual plants are relatively easy to control, the sheer number of seeds produced each year mean the task of controlling this weed inevitably needs to be carried out regularly.  

Control

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner. 

Cultural control

Although time-consuming, hand-weeding or carefully hoeing beds and borders can be an effective way to control this weed as long as it is carried out before flowering and seed set, when weeds can also be added to home compost bins. Choose a dry day so disturbed weeds shrivel and die rather than re-rooting.

Alternatively, to prevent germination of weed seeds and to smother new seedlings, apply opaque plastic sheeting or a mulch of bulky organic matter, such as woodchips, to beds at a depth of at least 8cm (3in).

Weedkiller control

In borders and vegetable patches, where the weed occurs after crops have been lifted or on bare ground, contact herbicides containing acetic acid (Weedol Gun! Fast Acting), fatty acids (SBM Job Done Garden Ultrafast Weedkiller) or pelargonic acid (Doff 24/7 Fast Acting Weedkiller) should easily control this weed. These herbicides are non-selective and so care should be taken whilst spraying near other plants, covering these if needed during spraying with an upturned flowerpot or plastic sheeting.

Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

Download

Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see section 3a).

Links

Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers
Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Weeds: non-chemical control

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