These early bloomers such as henbit, common chickweed and shepherd's-purse are called winter or cool season annuals. As annuals they complete their life span in one growing season. The original plant dies after flowering and producing oodles of seeds. Annual plants rely on seeds to produce more plants the next season. Winter annuals are shrewd since their seeds may germinate in the fall then flower early the following spring.
These weeds lurk in gardens, paths and even rock mulch. Winter annuals often appear in bare soil areas disturbed through rototilling, dog digging and kid running.
Common chickweed, Stellaria media, is indeed a common winter annual. It is a low spreading plant that can grow 4-12 inches tall. It often grows in the shade of trees and shrubs or the north side of buildings. Chickweed has light green, small and ovate shaped leaves with pointed tips. The flowers are small, white with five deeply notched petals. The stems are creeping and often root at the leaf nodes.
is a common early season weed in lawns, landscapes and gardens as well as farm
fields. Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
is often confused with ground ivy (also known as creeping Charlie), Glechoma hederacea. Both have square
stems and small tubular flowers characteristic of members of the mint family.
Henbit flower color is more on the pink/purple/lavender range whereas creeping
Charlie flowers tend to be more in the blue range. Henbit flowers are clustered
at stem tips. Each cluster is festooned with a collar of lacy green leaves. Creeping
Charlie flowers develop along the rambling stems. Both plants have round leaves
with scalloped edges.
So why does it matter if it's henbit or creeping Charlie? If weed management is your goal, the timing and techniques differ with henbit and creeping Charlie. Henbit is a winter annual and creeping Charlie is a perennial. The original creeping Charlie plants come back every year accompanied by many seedlings. Henbit has to start from seed each year.
Controlling seed production is the key to controlling weeds, especially with annuals. Early bloomers need to be removed before they flower and set seed. Luckily most have very small root systems and are easy to pull or hoe. In gardens many weeds can be smothered with thick layers of wet newspapers topped with several inches of compost or mulch. In lawns maintain proper lawn density to eliminate open areas for weeds to develop.
Success in controlling perennial weeds such as creeping Charlie is in controlling the original plant and its flowers through hoeing, hand removal, smothering with wet newspapers and mulch or herbicide usage. Despite what you may hear, borax is not labeled for use as an herbicide to control creeping Charlie. At present there is no research to document its efficacy or lack of harm. Herbicides containing a combination of 2,4-D; MCPP and dicamba or herbicides containing triclopyr alone can be used to control creeping Charlie in lawns. Be sure to read and follow all label directions on any pesticide.
Alternatively we could just refer to winter annuals as winter wildflowers and enjoy the early color. Whether it's a wildflower or weed accurate identification is helpful. Check out University of Illinois website http://www.turf.uiuc.edu/weed_web/index.htm or bring samples to your local UI Extension office.
An easy-to-use UI Extension publication is "Identifying Weeds in Midwestern Turf and Landscapes" C1397 available at many Extension offices or https://pubsplus.illinois.edu/
Phone: 800-345-6087. Great pictures for accurate identification of your wildflowers or weeds.