Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Weeds are Winning - Again...

Posted by: Susan Rose, Tri River Area Extension

Grand Junction – It seems to happen every year about this time.  The Master Gardeners and I always begin the season full of spring energy and hope – THIS year, we will get ahead of it!  And STAY ahead of it!

Rriiightt…It gets away from us so quickly our heads spin, and not in a good way.  The winter annuals have already set seed, so we’re scrambling to collect and bag them, knowing we’ll miss some and have another crop of cheatgrass, hare barley, blue mustard and flixweed next year.  The dandelions – well, you leave them for the bees one day (a pretty good excuse, I thought) and those puffy seeds are blowing all over the garden the next.  And the kochia – so cute and harmless last week – can it have bolted so fast?

I should perhaps mention that we have four acres of gardens on the Mesa County fairgrounds, that we are tasked with maintaining. For years it was nothing but weeds, so the seed bank is appalling. At the Master Gardener class a year ago, we were between county weed managers so I took on the weeds class myself.  I decided to show them what we were up against here, and identified 56 different species.  Welcome to my world!

Shouldn't this be our state grass?
Don’t get me started on the trees.  The street behind the grounds here is lined with Siberian elm, which apparently was considered a desirable tree here at one time – no Dutch elm disease!  The City of Grand Junction, back in the day when monocultures were considered elegant, planted my entire street in these nuisances.  I have five 80 year olds on the west side of my house, so I do believe it is in my best interests to maintain them, but that doesn’t keep me from swearing at the seedlings.  Here in our Arboretum, we often don’t see them until they peek up out of a rose bush – impossible to pull, but still too small to stump-treat effectively.  
They aren’t alone – we also have two types of mulberries and all the volunteer cottonwoods anyone could ever want.  Russian-olive and tamarisk keep showing up as well.

I confess to occasionally contributing to the problem.  A couple of years ago, a spectacular mullein showed up which grew to 15 feet with a beautifully fasciated crown.  I’ve been regretting ever since that I couldn’t resist the show.  We also have Tragopogon porrifolius, the pinky-purple version of western salsify – hey, it’s a pretty flower!  Hey, it’s everywhere!  I love interesting plants so I’ll probably continue to cause problems.

What's up with white top this year?
How do we set our priorities? Going after the things that are going to seed is number one, and after that, the noxious weeds especially if they’re being really invasive. Canada thistle, hoary cress (having a banner year here) and absinth wormwood top that list.  (I think we planted the wormwood; see previous paragraph.)  Anything that is strangling everything else – you can all guess what that is!  I have my personal priorities, too – Russian-olive gets zero tolerance, while another volunteer cottonwood might slide for a while.

After that, it’s all about looks.  The views from the parking lot and the paths get more attention than the back forty.  Weeds lower than a foot tall get less attention than the three and four foot ones.  And those pretty flowers may get a pass.

 Maybe, after all, we can stay ahead of it this year…


  1. What an excellent post! Timely and universally understood, unfortunately.

  2. Gosh, I hear ya, Susan! I went out to my CSU research plots where my trees are planted and it was a sea of yellow--from thousands of dandelions...they weren't there last week?! Pretty? Yes. Discouraging? Absolutely. Great post...good pics too!

  3. Thanks to you both - it was fun to do, and it really did help to determine the priorities!

  4. That grass....that you suggest should be our state grass...what grass is that???? Thanks :)

  5. The winter annuals have already set seed, so we’re scrambling to collect and bag them, knowing we’ll miss some and have another crop of cheatgrass, hare barley, blue mustard and flixweed next year. click here

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