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.
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.
Some gardeners call it the Velcro plant. Others know it as cleavers or sticky weed. My favorite common name for Galium aparine? Sticky Willy.
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.
She says the important thing to do now is to get lawns healthy again, so that invading weeds won’t find a welcoming environment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
freshly-cultivated ground in borders, established flowerbeds, pots, vegetable plots
Apply a contact weedkiller when the plants are young and before they get a chance to flower.
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.
Getting rid of a Sticky Willy plant is easy enough; in fact, it’s just a matter of pulling it from the ground. However, each plant can have between 300 and 400 seeds, which spread readily and can lie dormant in soil for six years.
Identifying Sticky Willy by Its Small Spines
The weed can be found around the world. Most often, Sticky Willy grows in moist and shady areas such as areas filled with waste, on roadsides and in gardens. The species can also affect the growing of hay, rapeseed, sugar beets and various cereals.
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.
The sap of the plant can cause severe skin irritation in people who are sensitive to it. If left unchecked, the plant can also severely hinder other plants’ ability to grow. If left unchecked in agricultural operations, the plants can reduce crop yield in some species by between 30 and 60 percent.