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Beware Garlic Mustard in Early Spring

Garlic Mustard may be edible and tasty but unless you are planning to cook with it, you will not want it growing in your yard. One of the first weeds to appear in the spring, Garlic Mustard is a noxious weed that is difficult to get rid of. Read this article to learn how to identify Garlic Mustard and how to control it.

Mickey Scullard, Dakota County Master Gardener

Beware Garlic Mustard in Early Spring

While working in my rain garden one Fall, planting tulips and other spring bulbs, I discovered a new patch of unknown plants growing that I knew I had not planted. And it smelled like garlic when I pulled it out – but it sure didn’t look like the garlic I grow. I recalled someone talking about Garlic Mustard and based on the pictures and description I found on the University of Minnesota Extension garden website (UMN Extension - Garlic Mustard), determined that was my newest garden challenge. 

Despite sounding like something delicious (and it can be used to cook), Garlic Mustard is on the MN Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed list. Garlic Mustard is allelopathic, sending out chemicals that cause the reduced growth of nearby plants. It is challenging to eradicate. However, knowing its lifecycle can help you manage it (Garlic Mustard Lifecycle graphic). It is a biennial, which means during the first year, green vegetation growth occurs, with heart-shaped leaves that grow in a rosette format. 

In the second year, Garlic Mustard shoots up a stalk, 1 to 4 feet with serrated leaves and produces flowers and then seeds. 

The flowers are small, white, and have four petals. Seeds are produced in black oblong capsules with a single row of seeds. There can be over 100 seeds released by one plant and they can survive in the soil for five years.   

Controlling Garlic Mustard takes perseverance. It is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and the green leaves make it easy to find. Handpulling the plants is an option however, it is important to pull out the entire root. The Garlic Mustard root is a long, slender tap with an S-shaped end that makes it difficult to pull out fully. Disposing of the plants must be done correctly to avoid spreading it further. If you pull out plants that are flowering, you need to make sure to bag the plants as they can still produce seeds for several days. The pulled plants should remain on site to decay naturally, according to the Noxious Weed List information. And it is illegal to put them in garbage bins (Minnesota Statute 115A.931). Some chemicals, such as those that have triclopyr (Garlon) or glyphosate, have been effective especially when carefully applied in early spring or late fall before Garlic Mustard flowers. 

Despite being a noxious weed, Garlic Mustard is actually edible and tasty. You can make pesto, soups, quiches, salads, cakes, and more (Garlic Mustard Recipes). Make sure you are harvesting it safely and legally, for example, avoid roadside ditches that may have been treated with pesticides.

Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension (1,2,3)

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