Star of Bethlehem (God, Help Me)

Last week I told you about my tendency to stray from my shopping list while at the garden center. Thanks for all your comments; I’m glad to know I’m in good company with my mish-mash garden. I’m in the midst of expanding my perennial border to hold more plants; I spent a good part of last Saturday ripping up more lawn and trying to clear one very dastardly weed out of the way.

(Note—this photo isn’t of my yard—I didn’t think to take a “before” picture when I started weeding. But it looked a lot like this. Image source.)

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)—I noticed it last spring, our first spring in this house, and since there really wasn’t much interesting in the yard at that point, I let it grow and bloom. Just one little clump down by the sidewalk. It seemed so pretty, delicate, harmless. A grassy little plant with five or six white-and-green flowers waving in the breeze. A nice surprise.

Fast forward to this spring. Boom! Surprise! Our front lawn is a galaxy of star of Bethlehem. Big clumps, little clumps, here, there, everywhere. I’ve read that it only spreads by offsets (it’s a bulb), but it must spread by seed, too, because these plants are so far from the original clump. Or maybe they were there last year but I mowed them before they had a chance to bloom?

Well in any case a big portion of lawn and all the star of Bethlehem have got to go, to make room for more garden. So Saturday afternoon I chipped away at it. Wow, its bulbs are deep! And when you finally get to them, you find one big bulb with a billion little baby bulbs surrounding it. I tried hard not to let even the tiniest (I’m talking smaller than a seed bead) little bulb slip back into the earth, because I’m sure it would grow and multiply by next spring. Even still, I know this will be a drawn-out battle, because I was not able to get the bulb and roots in a few places—the stems just snapped off before I could dig down. I’m really not one to swear, but I found myself thinking it’s a strange coincidence that its initials are SOB.

What is your worst weed? Tell us about your battle.

Oh—and please don’t be charmed by star of Bethlehem!

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45 thoughts on “Star of Bethlehem (God, Help Me)

  1. My weeds may not seem like a problem to most, but my definition of a weed is “a plant growing where it’s not welcome.” Some of the crape myrtles in our yard either drop seeds or come up off runners. They are difficult to pull up and if you want to dig them up and plant them elsewhere, there’s not enough root. I’m tired of these little volunteers. Another problem is the ornamental cherry. The babies that sprout off the roots are more out of control than the crape myrtles. I’m afraid to use RoundUp because it’s systemic and might kill the whole tree (which is breathtaking in the spring. My last and most prolific weed is the croscosmia. Many years ago we brought home some “border grass” which must have come with a croscosmia bulb. The next year I noticed the beautiful orange flower. Later I realized there were seeds! Lucky me! Each year I threw those seeds in flower beds in the shade, naturalized areas in the sun, borders, etc. Everyone of those little boogers came up and each year they have multiplied … “going forth and being fruitful”! You really should know the growing habits of plants before you bring them into your gardens. Last week I dug up three very large batches of croscosmia that filled a 64 gallon tub! All these came from one area that measured 3 feet by 2.5 feet! They are now happily abiding on a hillside in northeast Georgia. ;-)

  2. I am my own worst enemy.As a new gardener 20 years ago I actually introduced the ivy and the laminastrum (yellow arch angel) and now it is everywhere. I try to keep them outside the cultivated areas in the woods but they are truly invasive. I have no lawn, just perennial and shrub gardens on about an acre around all sides of my home. Roundup is only a alternative where other desireables are not in residence. Otherwise its constant pulling and trying to keep it at bay. I also introduced hay scented ferns…they looked nice among the hostas, now I am pulling them to keep them under control but not getting rid of them. I too have Star of Bethlehem and pull it every Spring until it goes to sleep only to reimerge next year. It would be an interesting garden if left to grow at will, but I will perservere.

  3. In my rural and sandy coastal California garden, the weedy culprits are Matilija Poppy (public enemy #1 on steriods) Geranimum incanum, Erioginum (Santa Barbara Daisy)and sweet allyssum. Not to mention various unidentified local annual grasses and broadleaves. I’ve always considered myself an organic gardener, hand removing weeds, but have had to resort this spring to a brush and shrub killer for poison oak and matilja poppy which has come up in my raised vegetable beds; I now must empty and move them. Hiring a backhoe to remove the large clumps of poppy, and will then have to spot spray new shoots as they emerge. Don’t know if this will work or not.

    It’s truely heartbreaking to have these weedy scenarios threaten years of hard work.

  4. I have 5 pots of orange Star of Bethlehem–the blooms are the most exquisite neon orange color, but I never knew they were invasive. My own nightmare is nut grass. I have tried careful digging (often failing to find the “nuts”), Round-up and others, even the very expensive sedge/surfactant mixtures, and I’m losing the battle. I would gladly trade this horrible weed for any sort of dandelion or nettle.

  5. I live in a rural area, so I’ve pretty much got some of everything in the lawn: crab grass, quack grass, goose grass, dandylions, violas, creeping charlie, clover, mint (an escapee into the lawn planted by a previous owner), wild strawberry, chickweed, sheep sorrel, hawkweed, dock, burdock, nettles, ad nauseum! Most of them I do my best to ignore unless it has thorns or is otherwise unpleasant to trod upon in bare feet. However, the two things that make me the craziest are the appalling number of box elder saplings that spring up (at least hackberry is a good wildlife/landscape tree. Box elders do nothing for me.) and invasive honeysuckle bushes. Even the first year plants of both need a trowel or shovel to get the root out of the ground. They’re impossible just to pull up by hand. I wish I could train the deer to eat the weeds instead of my ornamentals and veggies!

  6. I livewith the violets and encourage the clover in my lawn. Remember that monocultures are bad. But creeping charlie is a disaster, it kills the grass, outcompetes the clover and jumps into the flower and shrub beds. I won’t use herbicides on my lawn. I was told that it does not like a a higher pH and have relimed my lawn this year in hopes of atleast slowing Charlie’s spread.

  7. Nutsedge and hackberry tree saplings are the worst for me. Nutsedge have tubers that look like little nuts. It grows taller than the grass, so fortunately, most of it is in our backyard and not as much in the front. I know they spread underground, but they must spread thru the air as well because they’ll just pop up out of nowhere. Found some nutsedge spray and sprayed a couple years ago. Will have to see how it looks this year when it warms up and they start to grow. As for the hackberry saplings, I’m always having to dig them up or cut them at the base. I’m sure the birds are spreading the seeds.

  8. Your Star of Bethlehem was most likely planted by previous owners. It spreads mainly by bulb multiplication, like snow crocus. It is interesting that small bulb plants which are early spring bloomers are suggested for planting in lawns because they die down by the time the lawn is in need of first spring mowing.

    My problem weeds – of course Creeping Charlie which I was not familiar with I moved to the Midwest from Southern California and thought was a pretty little thing until I learned better. It is still a pretty little thing – just not when in my yard. I can not vouch for it but I have read to spray with Trimec in the fall and re-treat in spring for any that has survived the winter. Trimec is a broad-leaf herbicide and does not harm most grass varieties. Personally, I use Round-Up and repeat as many times as necessary. I am not concerned with damage to the lawn because Charlie has destroyed any lawn that ever was. In the garden beds I pick it out and have managed to keep it from being a problem. I have three other major weed problems. Canadian Thistle – Round-Up does not kill the root. Recommended solution, which I concur with, is keep it pulled – if there is no plant to feed the root the root has to eventually die. Dandelions – again Round-Up does not kill the root. My best solution is don’t let it go to seed and dig it out one-by-one. You have to get the entire root or it will re-grow. Stinging Nettle – spray in early spring while it is still only a couple of inches tall and dig out any roots that dare to grow again. If you allow it to grow taller you will have to dig it (long sleeves and gloves)and hope you find every bit of root. The smallest bit left will grow. Crab Grass – pre-emergent treatment; pull whatever grows and repeat the next year.

  9. Creeping Charlie and Healall(Prunella vulgaris) are two of the overall worst popup anywhere weeds. One I brought on myself is wormwood, one of the most prolific invasive plants I’ve come across. I’m ready to totally ripout a bed to get rid of it and it has run into the lawn. Stay away from this one.

  10. Star of Bethlehem, Violets, and the absolute worst….campanula rapunculoides…impossible to get rid of tho’ this year I am putting my money in Burn Out II and applying regularly to see where it gets me. This campanula rapunculoides is ruining a number of our clients landscaping in the southern N.H. area. My crop is not as bad as some.

  11. Bishop’s cap…weed is the worst! it grow on runners and unless you get every last piece it will come back again. It winds itself around roots of any other plant so forget dividing plants or sharing with friends. I’ve poured concentrated roundup on it and had it come back 2 weeks later. The only way I’ve found to get rid of it is to cover it with 6mm plastic for 3 years. Even then it will find its way to the edge.

    • Yes, I have had Bishops Weed. As a rhizome it was and is still a problem to keep under control. With the Bishops Weed, I lost most of my perennials and literally dumped shrub killer and had to abandon the flower bed for a couple years. Creeping Charlie with the pretty purple flowers is also extremely invasive and almost impossible to get rid of it. Weed-B-Gon is not strong enough. It is in the same class as clover….hard to kill.

  12. Canadian thistle is the thug in my garden. It is impossible to pull – leave one small piece behind and then you have two in that spot. It is a thorny plant so that means gloves which I can never find. I cut it back so it doesn’t flower. When all else fails, I go the chemical route.

    • I grew up on a farm and we always had a lot of thistle. We cut off as much as we could at ground level and dug a little hole and poured in table salt. Make sure you do not get it on the grass as the salt will kill the grass also. At least it was raising a safer chemical and it worked……just be neat so you don’t kill more than you want.

  13. There are a few weeds in my gardens that I’m constantly doing battle with. The worst one is Creeping Charley with it’s pretty little scalloped leaves and tiny blue flowers. It loves mixing with my ivy. I’m not sure what the second one is called, is all green with the looks of Bishops Weed, which is another battle. And to think that 32 years ago I planted that stuff. It had my appreciation at one time and still would if I could contain it! Any suggestions on Creeping Charlie?

    • The best thing that I found for killing Bishops Weed is “Shrub and Poison Ivy killer” by Spectricide. It comes as a gel spray
      and really works. Be generous with the product but it really works. To kill creeping charlie, I mix a strong solution of a product that can also kill oxalis. Oxalis looks like clover but it is not. but Oxalis will kill it also. All of this information I got from Garden Centers, Plant clinics, Extension service plant professions so I I am not just dreaming up the answers. I had all the same problems and now I don’t. Good luck to all of you fellow gardeners.

  14. Red Sorrel…(someone once told me it was called mother-in-law tongue – hahaha!)…………makes me crazy!
    Swamp Smartweed…is a true menace – so far impossible to get rid of – may need to go with chemical warfare if you get this one!

  15. For me it’s stray grass growing in the mulched beds. No matter how much mulch I put down, grass killer I spray on it, and yanking it out, I still get clumps of rhizome grasses every spring that I have to battle!

    • Could you be talking about water grass. It is very thick, spreads by rhizome and chokes out regular grass. If it looks like a spider with stems going out in different directions, then it probably is crabgrass. Crabgrass really is a little later in the summer. I would ask someone at the garden center what would be the best to take care off the water grass. Crabgrass you need to spread a pre-emergent EARLY spring. There are some sprays once the crabgrass is already growing, but it is not as effective.

  16. Ground ivy and violets are my biggest problem weeds. I’m constantly pulling the ivy up. The violets are pretty, but they require digging to eliminate, so I just take care of them when they invade my garden beds. Good luck with that little SOB.

    • I have many violets in my backyard and they have spread there from my neighbors backyard. He got rid of his and now I have them. I don’t know if creeping charlie is the same as ground ivy,but it is difficult to get rid of and is now invading my garden beds and getting into a section of my vinca. I don’t know if you have tried a chemical means to get rid of your weeds,but supposedly Weed-b-gone purple label is the one try. I will say I have tried one application (a little stronger than called for)and it hasn’t worked so far. I will have to try again.

      • It does sound like your pretty purple violets are creeping charlie and believe me they will choke out your grass if you allow it to get out of control. I got mine from a neighbor who does not control any weeks including dandylions. The chemical that I used said it would kill oxalis. Good Luck!
        Also lilies of the valley are invasive, but not too bad. I love the flowers so just weed out where I don’t want them.

  17. I wish someone had warned me that native plants can become invasive. Take the lowly purple violet, for example.

    Jerusalem Artichoke is almost impossible to remove. I have dug up buckets of the roots and given them to a Native American group in my area as they use them in their educational events. Next year, I have twice as many and they will migrate to other garden beds, the lawn etc. I wish I had planted them in a sunken tub to control them.

  18. I have the exact same problem with Oxalis. Oxalis will come up under stones, concrete slabs, brick houses, in places you can’t reach. It,too, has nodules under the ground that multiply by the hundreds. The biggest problem is that unknowingly some folks let Oxalis grow thinking it is clover until they discover their mistake. The leaves are similar. You can pull clover up and eliminate it, but not Oxalis. Every year people write in to the local garden editor asking how to get rid of Oxalis. It ruins lawns. And the reply is to dig up as many of the nodules as you can. I spend full days every year doing just that and I still can’t eliminate Oxalis. I, too, try to carefully dig up every single nodule I can see. If anyone ever developes a product that will kill Oxalis and not kill St. Augustine grass they will make a fortune. I agree with you that Oxalis, like Star of Bethleham, must spread by seed and other ways as well as the nodules. Oxalis is much harder to eliminate than nutgrass.

    • Yes, I think we share a similar frustration. I can’t believe how far down the star of Bethlehem bulbs lie. Halfway to China. Pulling them up, I just know a few slip away and maybe the disturbance encourages them somehow.

  19. English Ivy is a huge problem in my area–Northern California on the coast. It kills everything unless you keep it pulled out. It can even kill trees. And, in spite of all of the problems, landscapers are still planting it, so it matures, makes seeds, the birds drop the seeds in my garden and the problem continues.

  20. Too bad it isn’t in the spot you want it to be in. I adore that flower and was delighted to find it on my property. I look forward to it and am surprised by where it will turn up each year.
    All the best to you. True, a weed is a misplaced plant.

    • For me it’s sort of a love/hate thing! I do love the flowers. Right now I hate the plant, though, because it’s in my way. There is some on the other side of our walkway — where I’m not gardening — which I’ll leave alone. Though I’ll deadhead it before it seeds so it won’t spread back over to my garden side. I hope.

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