Weedy Wednesday - Goosegrass (Cleavers)
This week's plant in our Wednesday Weed series is Goosegrass, also known as Cleavers, or Sticky Willy.
In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.
We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won't be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.
Goosegrass, Cleavers or Sticky Willy Galium aparine
What: This annual weed is a rapid grower, and can form dense patches, pulling down surrounding plants. It is the small hooked hairs growing out of the stems and leaves which latch on, giving the name Sticky Grass or Sticky Willy. Geese particularly enjoy eating it – hence the nickname Goosegrass!
Habit: This plant can survive in heavy, waterlogged as well as dry soil. It has tiny, star-shaped, greenish-white flowers, from June to August. These develop into globular fruits, or burrs, which are also covered with hooked hairs which cling to clothes and animal fur, aiding seed dispersal. Seedlings that emerge in the autumn reach a height of 10-20 cm at which stage they overwinter. They are not damaged by frost. Stem growth begins again in April, rapidly increasing as days lengthen.
Benefits: Cleaver seeds can be roasted and are claimed to be an excellent coffee substitute (however they do have a laxative and emetic effect.) The dried matt of foliage was once used to stuff mattresses, whereas the roots create a permanent red dye.
Control: As this is an annual weed, hand pulling and hoeing will all help – especially before flowering and seed setting. Alternatively a thick mulch in early spring or late autumn will reduce seedlings’ ability to emerge.