Sticky Willy is quite easy to identify, thanks to the downward-pointing brown prickles on its leaves – which appear in groups of between six and eight – and stems. Its oblong-shaped eggs have slightly notched tips. Its seed leaves, or cotyledons, are smooth, however. If allowed to mature, Sticky Willy can grow to be 40 inches tall. Large groups of the plants often spread in dense mats over the ground, made all the more dense by their spines. Their flowers are four-parted and often white or greenish-white.
Gardeners looking to avoid Sticky Willy near their homes should be sure to brush down their clothing and pets after walking in areas where the weed is commonly found, or after exposure. Like most parts of the plant, the seeds are covered in tiny barbs that can stick to cloth or fur easily. The seeds spread easily, and even a few of the hardy seeds can cause an outbreak in a garden.
Why Get Rid of Sticky Willy?
Perhaps best known as Sticky Willy, Galium aparine – USDA growing zones 3 to 7 – is an annual plant, largely considered to be a weed. With some basic steps, however, the savvy gardener can effectively remove it from his or her yard. Also known as Goosegrass, Coachweed, Catchweed and Cleavers, it can cause some serious problems for both gardeners and farmers.
Some herbicides have proven to be effective in removing the pesky plant. Contact herbicides containing acetic, fatty or pelargonic acids can scorch off Sticky Willy’s foliage, including its seed leaves. However, these can damage nearby plants, so covering desirable garden plants is recommended, at least until the chemicals dry on the weed foliage.
Applying a heavy layer of organic mulch or using plastic mulch can also prevent the seeds from reaching the soil or getting enough light to grow.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, sticky Willy is a native throughout North America. Under “benefits,” it is listed as having a “conspicuous flower.” Well, maybe if you’re using a magnifying glass. The Wildflower Center entry also points out that the plant is sometimes called bedstraw because one of its sweeter smelling cousins (G. verum) was used to stuff mattresses in medieval times.
And if you want to keep sticky Willy from coming back next spring, pull it (or mow it) as soon as you see it. Otherwise, after it blooms, it will throw off seed that will turn into next year’s sticky Willy problem.
Some gardeners call it the Velcro plant. Others know it as cleavers or sticky weed. My favorite common name for Galium aparine? Sticky Willy.
She says the important thing to do now is to get lawns healthy again, so that invading weeds won’t find a welcoming environment.
Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent treatment recommended by many organic sources to help control annual weeds. Some gardeners swear by it, but others say it’s not very effective. I haven’t tried it, but I’m planning to before next spring. (Some of my sticky Willy is already blooming, so I might have missed my best chance to stop its spread by yanking it out.)
The annual weed bedstraw has made its presence known across Michigan gardens.
For many gardeners, this spring has brought an invader that seems supercharged and has popped up in many garden beds and areas that are not managed. It has many common names such as bedstraw, cleavers, catchweed bedstraw, sticky-weed or sticky-willie, to name just a few. Its botanical name is Galium aparine. If you have ever fought with it, you will remember it, even it you didn’t know its name.
Bedstraw. Photo credit: Ted Bodner, plants.usda.gov
Bedstraw grows rapidly in the spring and has long, weak stems and leaves that cling to everything like Velcro. Bedstraw climbs haphazardly over all of the surrounding plants, creating a sticky tangle of vines. Both the leaves and the stems have fine hairs tipped with tiny hooks. Because of its rapid growth, it can shade out smaller plants in a short time. When bedstraw grows in the sun, the prickly hairs are more robust than on shaded plants and can be more irritating to those pulling it out. The irritation is similar to being sandpapered. If you are sensitive to this scratchy plant, wear long sleeves and gloves when removing it.
Every spring, some obnoxious or annoying weed becomes a big pest in many yards and gardens. Andy Warhol’s statement made long ago could also be applied to weeds: “They all get their 15 minutes of fame.” Some magic confluence of temperatures and rainfall has favored it over all the other weeds residing in many yards.
Because bedstraw gallops over and around all surrounding plants, there is no herbicide that can be used safely. The only option is the gardener’s usual “seek and destroy” of pulling and bagging it up. Luckily, it is shallowly rooted. The only good part is that the prickly plants can be shaped into a ball and lobbed out of the bed. If bedstraw is composted, the seeds will survive. It may be necessary to put it in a black, plastic bag, add a little water and lay the closed bag in the sun with the intention of steaming the seeds into submission.