- Author: Patricia Barni
Beat the Cheat
Part II: How to get rid of cheatgrass!
Part One of the cheatgrass story informed us of its invasive weed status and how it creates a fire risk around the home. But there is hope.
First, remember that any disturbance of the soil is an invitation to cheatgrass - maintaining an adequate cover of native plant species and biological soil crusts can render some communities more resistant to cheatgrass invasion.
Where soils have been disturbed, however, you must remove live plants and prevent seed production. This takes hard work and persistence and then more persistence! For small areas, hand pulling is effective if done diligently over many years. Cheatgrass is typically a winter annual grass. It grows early and rapidly (often before other annuals germinate) and is fairly easy to identify and manually pull during the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, especially when it first appears.
For areas where mature communities persist, I have developed a 2-year eradication plan that works well. First, I lift the roots out of the ground a few inches below the soil (these fine, dry roots at the surface are another fire hazard) with a soil knife and remove as much of the plant, seeds, and roots as possible. Yes, the seeds germinate better in the light and fluffy soil left behind so I tamp down areas I have weeded to condense the soil structure. Once these nests of old grasses and seeds are gone, it is much easier to remove the new plants that might come up in year two (and three, and four...). You can also use a hula hoe but remember to rake up as much of the plants, roots, and seeds as possible.
If there is a community of cheatgrass that goes to seed before you have time to remove the plants, your neighbors will thank you if you at least remove the seeds. Using a string-trimmer when the seeds are still immature can be effective to reduce seed spread but you still need to go back and remove the plants so they do not regrow and to reduce the fire risk.
For larger infestations, chemical controls or grazing should be considered. Be careful using herbicides because those recommended for controlling cheatgrass can also harm nearby native species. UC IPM has information on controlling brome grasses including timing of herbicides, if used. Grazing by goats is another option. Grazing during the spring and fall must be used for at least two consecutive years to be effective.
The use of mechanical equipment is not recommended because it disturbs the soil and may exacerbate the problem. So plan some time for some old-fashioned weeding to get rid of this pest of a plant.
For more information:
- Author: Alison Collin
Having spent best part of a week painstakingly trying to remove every scrap of Dichondra which has overrun a blueberry patch I am firmly of the opinion that it ranks with Bermuda grass as one of the most obnoxious weeds.
Dichondra micrantha was often planted as a lawn substitute until infestations of flea beetles proved devastating in some areas. It has small green leaves reminiscent of miniature water lily pads and spreads to make a dense mat by thread-like surface runners. It likes rich moist soil - just like blueberries.
We know not where the origination of this infestation began, but the blueberries were planted about seven years ago and have been mulched annually with a fairly thick top dressing of peat and fertilized using organic products. The first few strands of dichondra appeared about three years ago and grew quite rapidly, but it was fairly easy to remove from the soft peaty areas around the plant. However, this year the problem became much more serious, due mainly to lack of time to keep on top of it.
What to do? Blueberries hate to have their roots disturbed, so hoeing is not an option, neither would a selective weedkiller be safe, so there was nothing for it but to get down on ones hands and knees and try to undermine the mats of weed while taking great care not to move or damage the blueberry roots. The roots of the dichondra are very fragile, and tiny pieces easily broke off, and even with judicious use of my Japanese hand hoe, I was constantly aware of the fact that I was unearthing the blueberry roots.
When I had got the soil as clean as possible, I applied a layer of peat, and covered that with thick black landscape fabric cut to fit around the plants as best as the multi-stemmed growth would allow. Concerned that in our desert climate this might result in overheating of the blueberry roots, I then applied a thick layer of pine needles as a mulch.
Only time will tell if all this effort will pay off, but I know that we will have to be vigilant next season and pull out any dichondra as soon as it reappears from any area of the garden.
Has anyone else been able to manage such a weed in an effective and permanent way? If so we should love to hear from you!
- Author: Dustin Blakey
I wasn't raised here in the Owens Valley so while I recognize plants that I see all over the place, I don't necessarily know the names of them. I'm pretty good at yard and agricultural weed I.D. but when someone brings me a random plant from the desert—which is usually what I'm brought—I usually shrug and say "It's one of those desert plants!" I'm learning them, however.
Yesterday I was brought a really stinky weed that was growing in West Bishop.
The plant looked like this, but wasn't very photogenic so I found a better one online:
I've seen this weed lots of times but never bothered to learn what it was. It stinks so I didn't want to get too close, but there's no escaping when it's brought to you.
I asked our Ag Commissioner if he knew the name and said the same as me: "It's one of those desert plants the ranchers hate." He added it's not on any of his lists of noxious plants.
So I looked it up. It's common name is Stinking Orach. It's also called bracted saltscale or bractscale. It has a lot of common names, actually. Some folks call it a pigweed but it's not really one of those. Latin-speakers will call it Atriplex serenana. It's native but it's nothing you would want near your house. The odor alone will annoy you. Like other Atriplex species, it prefers alkaline soils. I've seen a lot of it on the east side of the valley and there is some near the Bishop Community Garden. It's certainly not unusual.
So how can you figure out what a plant is? I usually use 3 methods.
- If it is a weed in crops, yards or ponds chances are it is in Weeds of California and Other Western States. This is a big, thick 2-volume guide. UC ANR publishes it and it can be bought here: http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu It's really meant for users that know a bit about plants since it's organized by family. I like this when I've forgotten the name.
- If it's a desert plant with interesting blooms, I'll often check in one of my wildflower books.
- Usually if I have no clue what's going on I look it up at calflora.org They have a nifty search feature that will limit something to a county. You can also use the "What Grows Here" feature to draw an area and it will list all the known plants there. Inyo and Mono counties have LOTS of plants so I try to add features to the search such as plant family or whether is it an annual or perennial, if I can tell. If the plant is in bloom, you can add bloom time which really narrows down your options. Then you just have scroll through until you find something promising.
I suppose I could key it out with something like the Jepson Manual, but those are hard to wrap your head around if you're not using them often, and one mistake can lead you to a wrong answer. I find it's faster to just visually scan a narrowed down list of options with photos online. Then search Google to find out more about the suspect plant to see if I'm right.
It took about 10 minutes for me to find this plant's identity, but it's satisfying to put a name to the face, finally.
The continuing drought in California and the Western United States has made it necessary for all of us, no matter where we live, to find ways to save precious water. Now that our three sons are out of the house, Lori and I decided that the removal of some grass in our yard would be a start. We could remove grass in a sunny backyard area as a test, and as an added bonus use the newly-cleared space for growing less water intensive, sun-loving vegetables and flowers.
The main problem we had to tackle, aside from the labor required to dig out and dispose of the turf, was how to prevent the grass from growing back and weeds from encroaching on the exposed area. We considered a number of options to eliminate grass including initial removal and continuing weeding, herbicides, tilling, weed cloth, cardboard and newspapers.
Each of those options brings with it its own advantages and disadvantages which had to be weighed. Continuing weeding to (hopefully) keep grass at bay would be a pain in the neck—and back—and we saw little upside in this option. Herbicides would probably get rid of the grass, but would probably require several applications. Most importantly to me, they are not good for the environment and any future planting we wanted to do, including vegetables. Tilling can harm the natural soil texture, spread seeds and chop up grass into small pieces that can grow. Weed cloth would probably work but it's expensive. Cardboard would probably work too but it's difficult to work with. Old newspapers reportedly work well and they are readily available from the local newspaper office for nothing, and using them carries the added benefit of recycling.
First we needed to select a location where the lawn would be removed. Because we have so many trees in the backyard that shade a lot of area, we selected a location in the middle of the yard that gets as much sun as possible. We wanted to have a sunny location where vegetables and flowers would grow well.
We began the test in mid-March 2015 hoping to get the new area ready to plant before summer. I started by outlining a spot on the lawn using a hose and then proceeding to remove the grass. First I used a cutter to make a nice edge along the hose. I then dug out the edge of the grass inside the cut to a full shovel depth, about six inches. This has the added benefit of minimizing the infiltration of adjacent grass as it cannot easily cross the open space. Next I tilled the grass in the rest of the area, and raked and pulled as much leftover grass as I could.
In mid-April we took on the task of getting water to the new planting area. We decided to tap into an existing drip irrigation line that's on a timer and about 25 feet away. I used the cutter to make a line in the grass then dug down and peeled back the grass leaving it attached at one edge to facilitate putting it back once I'd made the water connection. I then dug a trench about 12 inches deep. It was a bit tricky cementing the new connection to the existing pipe which was about two feet deep. Once I had made the connection I ran pipe in the ditch and covered it with the dirt I'd removed and the grass I'd peeled back. Finally Lori connected a drip irrigation system to the new pipe and put heads where we were going to plant.
Then we got to plant! We waited until early May hoping to avoid freezing (it's all a matter of risk tolerance). Lori planted squash seeds, peppers, cucumbers, a gerbera daisy, marigolds and one dahlia tuber we had left over after planting 39 in our existing garden. We've had problems in the past with bugs eating our young plants so we put a fence around the area to keep the dogs out and then Lori sprinkled a bit of snail/earwig bait to give them a chance to grow strong and better survive a pest onslaught.
It's now June. Everything we planted is doing quite well. On May 26 Lori did some minor cleaning and mulching of the area and found minimal grass and weed infiltration. Since we created the new planting area very little grass has come up, and any that has mostly came from the surrounding grass, not through the newspaper. So, at this point I would call the test a success. I will update this report as the summer and fall growing seasons progress and we have a better handle on how successful the test has been. But, so far so good! If it continues to work this well we may remove more grass in the future using the same method.
I'll keep you posted.