Its popularity with poultry earned it the name chickweed, and some people agree, touting Stellaria media as another weed that makes a tasty salad ingredient. For many gardeners, however, this creeping annual is first and foremost an aggressive lawn and garden weed. Partial to nutrient-rich soil, chickweed plants mature quickly. In less than six weeks, chickweed can progress from seedling to flowering to seed-setting, with each new plant capable of producing up to 15,000 seeds in one season.
And sprout they do. Chickweed seeds typically sprout in early spring and late summer, but are ready to germinate at any time conditions are moist and shady. Though technically an annual, chickweed reappears year after year, as its fall-set seeds sprout in early spring and begin the seed-setting cycle all over again. Any buried chickweed seeds can survive dormant in soil for decades just waiting their turn at the surface.
Though chickweed has its culinary and herbalist champions, even they often caution against the aggressive habits that have made this European native a garden bane across North America. Chickweed is a low spreading plant that continues to throw out new roots that allow it to hold tenaciously to the soil. The density and spread of the roots make it a difficult weed to pull, though unlike some weeds, killing the above-ground portion puts it out of action. This makes it a likely candidate for organic weed killers such as vinegar and steam. To manually remove the weeds, a hoe, rather than a hand digger, is recommended.
As with most weeds, however, an easier strategy focuses on prevention. Weed preventers such as Preen stop weed seeds, including chickweed's, from sprouting, effectively preventing new weeds from happening. Used in combination with mulch, Preen forms an effective barrier against new weed growth. Though it is optimal to begin a weed prevention routine in early spring, it's fine to start any time during the growing season. For more information on weeds and weed prevention, see www.preen.com.