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.
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.
Here’s what certified Austin herbalist Ellen Zimmermann of Sharing the Wisdom of the Plants (www.ezherbs.net) says about sticky Willy: “Cleavers, Galium aparine is a highly valuable medicinal herb. It is used to boost the immune system, particularly to support and cleanse the lymph system. It is also quite useful as a urinary astringent as it assists with inflammation. It is a wonderful spring tonic, cooling for fevers and acts (in older herbal terms) as a blood purifier.”
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.)
But no matter what you call it, if you do any kind of yard work or gardening, you’ve probably rubbed up against this annual whose seeds germinate in the cool wet weather of late winter and then grow rapidly into swirly, sticky stems of green that glue themselves to your fence, your pets and your socks.
But before declaring war on this annoying, cloying thing, I decided to take a closer look. Why is it in my backyard? Can I make it go away? And should I first consider what it might be good for? Every living thing has some redeeming value, right? Right. So, here’s what I’ve dug up so far on sticky Willy:
Sticky Willy can also be consumed as a tea, according to several other herbal sources. “The Handbook of Alternatives to Chemical Medicine” suggests steeping 1 teaspoon of crushed leaves in 1 cup of boiling water to promote weight loss and soothe irritation of the urinary tract. Or cook it with beans, to add flavor and reduce flatulence. Sticky Willy Beano?
Ragweed: Ragweed is commonly known by many allergy sufferers. This annual weed can be seen most often during summer (and autumn) months and recognized by its fern-like foliage.
Perennial weeds, on the other hand, have more extensive root systems, including taproots, making them more difficult to control. In addition, these weeds come back each year, especially if the roots are not destroyed. Some of the most common (and problematic) perennial weed types include:
How to Identify Weed Types
Knotweed: Knotweed is an annual weed, common along sidewalks. It usually thrives in dry, compacted soils. Knotweed forms a tough, wiry mat of stems and blue-green leaves with small white flowers. It is often confused with spurge, however, this weed does not produce a milky sap. It does produce numerous seeds, which can be reduced with annual aeration.
Spotted spurge: Spotted spurge has a reddish purple spot in the center of each leaf and the sap is milky (which may cause a rash in sensitive individuals). This annual weed can be pulled up easily in moist soil. Improving the density of lawn grass can help keep it under control.
Dandelions: Dandelions are well known in many lawns and gardens– their fuzzy yellow blooms popping up nearly anywhere. While their deep taproots make them difficult to control, they generally spread through their easily recognized white, fluffy seedheads.