Ask the Gardener: Bittercress, crop rotation and plant ID

Posted on: March 2, 2020 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

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(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)


Question 1: Bittercress

Bonnie: Could you please tell me what this weed is that that has continued to grow in my mulch all winter long? We have had them the past two summers but never seen them grow like this winter, which I’m sure is due to the warmer weather. Despite trying weed killer on them last year, they continue to keep growing and multiplying. We would appreciate any kind of help and also we are thinking about putting pre-emergent down in the mulched areas this year. Will that also help to keep them from multiplying?

Doug: I was able to zoom in on the picture and identify the weed at bittercress. It’s a pain, but the best way to deal with bittercress is physically dig it with a weeding tool. It’s critical to get to the plant before it starts to flower, as it will send seeds everywhere. The plant comes out pretty easily early in the season. Keep an eye out for seedlings and remove them immediately. There’s an organic herbicide named BurnOut that would work on your bittercress, too.

Question 2: Crop rotation

Bernie: Last year was my first garden at our new house. I planted dozens of peppers throughout the middle of a 15×15 square with tomatoes, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots surrounding on the sides. There are several varieties of peppers (I can them pickled and in mustard), and I got great yield. I really want to do the peppers in the same place and rotate the other veggies. I have leaves on top of the garden now and will add quality compost and manure from a family friend’s horses. Do I need to dig another garden (hope not!) or can I continue to plant the peppers considering the amendments I am making?

Doug: Crop rotation is important, but it’s not always possible. There are only two places I have for tomatoes, so I bounce between the two. I’d prefer to have a least a three-year rotation. This is basically information I’m repeating from what I’ve learned over the years.

Certain types of plants take different nutrients out of the soil and are prone to different diseases. In my mind, the only reason not to rotate is that there’s only one place the plant can thrive. There’s no reason not to rotate if the light and soil quality is good through your garden. If I were you, I’d figure out a way to just move everything around the garden seasonally if possible.

heather bittercress

Question 3: Plant ID

Bill: My wife purchased a few of these plants. They were green leafed all summer and fall. When the weather got colder the purple flowers appeared and have stayed all winter. She discarded the ID card so we don’t know the plant’s name. We would love to know what they are as we would like to purchase more. Please help.

Doug: That’s a type of heather, a plant that can be difficult to grow. Looks like you’ve got it in the right spot, as it needs good drainage. I’d be tempted to feed it some liquid organic fertilizer like Grow from Espoma (available here) in the late spring. It’s a really interesting plant as it blooms off season, and once it catches on, it should be there for a while.

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