I bet you’ve noticed, the cool wet spring that we’ve had has made weeds extremely happy and abundant. But look at the bright side. We were all getting a little more than concerned a year ago when moisture was non-existent. Even though there are weeds almost everywhere you look I haven’t heard anyone complaining about all the rain that we had. We all seem to be putting on a grateful smile as we roll up our sleeves in an attempt to do battle with the weeds.
The moisture has brought about not only weeds, but I’ve seen a lot of wildflowers as well. I’m seeing flowers that I hadn’t seen for many years. I had wondered if some of them would ever appear again. This makes me think it’s going to be a fantastic year for wildflowers in the high country, but in my excitement, I digress. Many weed seeds have also been lying in the soil just waiting for some moisture and a little sunshine to make them come to life. So at this point we should stop and clarify, what exactly is a weed? The definition that you will most often hear is, “A weed is any plant growing out of place.” I’ll buy that, because I think there are several “weeds” that I consider pretty and actually enjoy, i.e. Chicory or some of the milkweeds. At the same time, there are quite a few flowers such as Bachelor Buttons, Lamb’s Ear, and Bee Balm that I think of as an invasive plant and are a real pain to deal with. So in my opinion, I think of most unruly plants as a weed and say, “if you don’t enjoy it or like it in your landscape, why not get rid of it?”
Many of these “misplaced plants” can become serious problems when they’re not controlled before they become too numerous. Because a weed’s sole purpose in life is reproduction, controlling them is all about stopping them from reproducing. It’s that simple. The hard part is knowing how to do that.
Knowing that there are basically three types of weeds: annual, bi-annual, and perennial, will help you win the battle of the weeds. In the category of annual weeds you will find that there are either summer, or, winter annuals. This is really simple to understand. Summer annual weeds grow, flower, and produce seeds that will germinate the following spring or summer, such as kochia. Those little yellow Buttercup Burs that have been popping up all over the Montrose area are also summer annuals. They will reproduce when the little bur settles onto the soil and the seeds from it come to life again in the spring when weather conditions are favorable.
Winter annuals grow and produce seeds that will germinate in late summer or fall, such as cheat grass. These germinated seeds lay dormant all winter until the opportune time when they can burst onto the scene when conditions are just right. The new plant begins growing as soon as the weather warms in early spring. I bet you’ve already seen cheat grass with it’s pointy little seed head, which is currently turning kind of purple. This grass will continue to dry and can become a fire hazard, not to mention its nasty habit of sticking into your clothes or your pet’s fur.
Annual weeds can be controlled with pre-emergent herbicides. A pre-emergent will keep the seed from germinating, yet allow things like perennial flowers and grasses to grow. A pre-emergent for a weed such as cheat grass should be applied in late summer though, before the seed germinates.
Biannual weeds like Burdock, will grow the first year then produce seeds the second year of their life. Perennial weeds, like White Top or Canada Thistle, will come back every year from the roots, regardless of seed production. However, the thousands of seeds per plant that many noxious weeds produce also contribute to their spread.
Noxious weeds are not your grandparent’s back yard weeds! Many of these weeds were brought into the country through various means. Many arrived from Europe and Asia during the mid-1800’s. These weeds are very aggressive in our country because there are no insects, animals, or diseases to control them, and believe it or not, there’s actually more moisture here than what they receive in their native lands. They can withstand a variety of harsh conditions, including climate extremes, drought, and poor soils. Noxious weeds are considered mean, tough, invaders, that are taking over vast areas of land, choking out native species. The legal definition of a noxious weed is “a plant that is causing significant enough problems that we, as a society, deem it a necessity to control it.” These weeds have cost the U.S. millions in losses in wildlife and recreation revenue alone. There are areas where native plant species are being lost because the invasive weeds are crowding them out. This is tragic because wildlife depend on the native plants for food and shelter. Weeds can even affect the selling of your home. If it comes down to a buyer torn between your home, or one without weeds, guess which one they will probably choose.
If you need to “cure” a weed problem, knowing your weeds and their reproductive habits will make the difference between relative success and frustration. Hoeing, pulling, or mowing works well with annual and biannual weeds providing you do it before they set seed. This method doesn’t work nearly as well with some of the perennial weeds. In many circumstances the weed’s root will break when you try to pull it, resulting in a clump of new weeds growing where it broke off. You can eventually win using these methods, but you need to keep on it and be persistent. A four-inch layer of mulch can also help keep your weeds at bay but eventually weeds will probably grow there as well. Cover crops may be one solution to help keep weeds at bay. Biological controls are available for some weeds but you need to have quite a large population of weeds so the insects will have something to eat and stick around. If you choose to use an herbicide to control your weeds, be sure to read the label and follow all label directions. Your weed should be listed on the label. And don’t mix the product stronger than the label recommends! More is not necessarily better and in some cases can do more harm than good.
Remember when you’re out there, sometimes it may be a long row to hoe, but we’re all pulling for you as we also fight in the battle.
Linda Corwine McIntosh — licensed pesticide applicator, ISA-certified arborist, advanced master gardener