Cleavers (Galium aparine) grow rapidly during warm weather. The sticky stems are able to scramble around the garden, smothering small, cultivated plants and setting masses of seed. It’s usually introduced on the coats of animals, birds’ feathers or human clothing. Its lifecycle is approximately eight weeks from germination to setting seed.
freshly-cultivated ground in borders, established flowerbeds, pots, vegetable plots
A short-lived plant that grows sticky mats of foliage, which can swamp cultivated plants. It produces sticky seeds, which can be spread around the garden by animals and on clothing.
Rubiaceae: an annual weed, with weak, sprawling stems, up to 1m (39in). Found in hedgerows, scrub and arable land. Tiny greenish-white flowers are borne in branching clusters from May – August and develop into round, green or purple fruits 3-5mm in diameter. Stems, leaves and seed have stiff hooked hairs. Whorls of 6-8 long, slender green leaves with a prominent central vein. Native to Europe, including Britain, from Scandinavia south and east to Spain, Northern and Western Asia.
Cleavers has a long history of domestic medicinal use and is also used widely by modern herbalists. A valuable diuretic, it is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. The whole plant, excluding the root, has alterative, antiphlogistic, aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic and vulnerary properties. It is harvested in May and June as it comes into flower and can be used fresh or dried for later use
The tender young shoot tips can be eaten raw or cooked as a pot-herb. A rather bitter flavour that some people find unpalatable, they are best used in the spring. A decoction of the whole dried plant gives a drink equal to tea. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute.
Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Around established trees and shrubs
SBM Job done Tough Weedkiller (ready-to-use only), SBM Job done Path Weedkiller (ready-to-use only) and Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican and can be applied once a season to natural surfaces where no plants are to be grown, and can also be applied under and around established woody trees and shrubs. This product kills off existing small green growth and prevents or checks developing growth. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants.
Weak, sprawling stems, up to 1m (39in) long bear whorls of 6-8 long, slender green leaves with a prominent central vein. Tiny greenish-white flowers are borne in branching clusters from May to August and develop into round, green or purple fruits 3-5mm in diameter. Stems, leaves and seed have stiff hooked hairs.
This page looks at options for gardeners when cleavers are becoming a problem.
Butterflies in your garden
Cleavers is a common annual weed native to hedgerows, scrub and arable land, which can spread to gardens on the fur of animals and clothing of passers-by. Although seedlings usually appear singly, rather than en masse like many other common weeds, the numerous and easily distributed seeds mean the weed can quickly establish in gardens if not controlled promptly.
The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.
Cleavers can be a good addition to a wildlife garden, as it provides food for the caterpillars of many butterfly and moth species, including the impressive hummingbird hawk moth.
Moths in your garden