How do we manage hedge bedstraw in our fields?
We have been letting our fields grow to promote natural habitat. About every other year we mow it in the early spring. We noticed this year an abundance of hedge bedstraw which I guess is ‘invasive’. Should we let it continue to grow and if so, are there any downsides to doing so? The thought of mowing it before it goes to seed would devastate the natural environment we currently have growing, but if it means controlling it if it’s bad, then we’ll do so.
In the home garden, the shallow-rooted bedstraw can often be pulled out by hand, making it slightly irritating but not a huge problem. It sounds as though you are working with a much larger space, though, which turns the weed into quite a headache. Please take a look at our UMaine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #2278, Controlling Smooth Bedstraw in Hayfields and Pastures for detailed information on experimental trials for various approaches. The key takeaways are to prevent the plant from seeding as a preliminary step to any serious control measure, which most likely means mowing to start with. Also advocated in the study is strong management of whatever primary forage crop is being grown as a competitor, but that won’t be as helpful for you as you are looking to cultivate a natural environment, which will also complicate use of recommended chemical treatments (those tested are nonspecific broadleaf herbicides, which will affect any non-grass plants) and effective use of tillage as a way to destroy the perennial crowns.
Unfortunately, this is an ideal situation for bedstraw to capitalize on. You may be faced with the prospect of keeping it mowed down for a couple of seasons, tilling it and starting back from scratch, or cultivating a grassy environment to allow for the use of chemical treatments.