Ask Eartha: Weeds running wild in the High Country (column)
June 26, 2015
My neighbor started giving me grief last summer about "noxious weeds" that he said are growing in my yard. One of the plants he says is bad is my favorite — a white daisy-looking plant that blooms in late summer. I didn't have to plant them, and I don't have to do anything! Why the fuss? What's the big deal?
— Daisy, Silverthorne
Why the fuss? The fuss is because noxious weeds threaten the very reasons we live, work and recreate in Colorado.
A weed is an unwanted plant that is growing where you don't want it to grow. A dandelion is a weed. A noxious weed is a plant that is non-native, invasive and competes with our native plants, disrupting our ecosystem. That white "daisy" that you think is so pretty is likely either a false chamomile or an ox-eye daisy — both of which are noxious. Noxious weeds are not kept in check by local insects or diseases because they didn't come from here — hence, the invasive nature. In their native environment, which could be Asia or Africa or any other far-flung place, their natural predators keep them in check, preventing them from becoming a problem. In their new environment — our environment — there aren't any such controls.
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Noxious weeds come here in any number of ways. They can take advantage of disturbed soils created during construction. They come in ornamental planting mixes or from nursery stock. Or, the seeds come by taking advantage of a natural event, like a wildfire or a flood, to land and sprout on bare ground. Sometimes they come hitchhiking on vehicle tires, hiking-boot soles or from summer grazing livestock. Once they bloom and go to seed, the wind, water, wild and domestic animals scatter those seeds to new areas. So then, weeds go wild and reproduce without restraint.
The common characteristic of all noxious weeds is their aggressive, competitive behaviors. Typically, they steal precious moisture, nutrients and sunlight from the surrounding plants. They modify soil properties, amend the composition of plant communities and revise the structure of animal populations. Areas of our native Colorado environment that used to have a rich range of native plants are now dominated by single or multiple noxious weeds. Of the 3,000 native species of plants in Colorado, 500 — or 17 percent — have already been displaced by noxious weeds.
Without control, they will not only continue to take over your yard but will also wander to your neighbors' yards and beyond, which won't help your relations in your neighborhood. Some of these exotic plants grow roots up to 15-30 feet long and produce more than 10,000 seeds annually. Some of these seeds from these unwelcomed plants can stay viable for up to 80 years and then, like vampires, rise from the dead when you aren't looking. Needless to say, with those facts against you, control and/or eradication of noxious weeds take time and perseverance.
When you pull those plants out of the ground — hopefully after bloom and before they go to seed — bag them because even once they are pulled, they will continue to produce their seed, even when their roots have been pulled out of the soil. It's not enough to pull them and leave them lying on the ground. Put them in a bag, and seal it up.
This may not be what you want to hear, but your neighbor is right to be concerned about your "pretty white daisies."
A full list of Summit County weeds, and instructions on how to control them, are on the Summit County website (www.co.summit.co/weeds) or contact the Summit County Weed Department for help at 970-668-4218.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. This guest entry was written by a Summit County master gardener. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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