The early bird gets the worm, the prepared gardener gets veggies (column) |

The early bird gets the worm, the prepared gardener gets veggies (column)

All of the Earth Day festivities have encouraged me to be more conscientious of my impact on the planet. In addition, I was reminded that in no time we will be into the growing season and I would like your advice on getting a head start.

— Peggy, Frisco

Despite the occasional spring snow shower, this year’s thaw is fast upon us in the High Country. Soon the pasque flowers will be in bloom and the hummingbirds will return. Still, our growing season is over just as sudden as it arrives. This is why it is imperative to get a head start on Mother Nature.

Clearing last year’s decay from your perennials allows sunlight to reach emerging leaves, fueling photosynthesis, and encouraging regrowth. It is important to rake your lawn and remove any lingering pet waste or surprises that may be revealed as the snow melts. Although enticing to your dog, decomposing refuse can be severely detrimental to their health. Each mud season, local veterinarians observe an increase in bacteria-related health problems. While a specific cause can be difficult to identify, as a rule of thumb, eliminate the potential of exposing your pets. Clear your yard and keep K9s on leash, so you can more closely monitor what they are sniffing or worse, eating. Never recycle puppy poo into your compost, its needs to be bagged and taken to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. Humans are equally vulnerable to snow mold and germs. Keeping that in mind, try to avoid inhaling stirred-up bacteria as you do yard work. I rake when there is a little moisture to hold down dust clouds and wrap a bandana across my face.

There are many means of weed control. My chickens devoured unwelcome weeds from the lawn last summer. Although more time and labor intensive, I hand-pulled noxious weeds from the vegetable garden and flower beds. This method is only effective if you are persistent. Removing foliage is like taking away the solar panels of the plant since its leaves absorb the sun’s light for energy. The root system must be pulled out completely, otherwise weeds can survive off the carbs stored within their roots and will regrow. This is especially true when it comes to perennial thistles, hand pulling is often counterproductive. They remind me of the mythical hydra, for every stalk removed, three more pop up to replace it.

Feasting weevils, beetles, and gall flies can help to control thistles but they will not completely eradicate the weed population. The use of post-emergent herbicides is often recommended. I use a vinegar solution as an alternative to store bought chemicals. If you choose to use Round-Up Ultra or another herbicide brand, you absolutely have to exercise caution and follow instructions!

In this war against weeds it is your responsibility to prevent unintended casualties. Adding more herbicide than the suggested amount or impatiently reapplying too often does not ensure success and is dangerous for the environment. People and pets should not be exposed to these chemicals. Make sure you speak with neighbors and mark off the treatment site until the designated duration of time has passed. Nearby plants are also at risk. Just one gust of wind could mist your prize winning peonies with a deadly dose of herbicide. A surprise rain storm, moments after application, could compromise potency and the run-off pollutes nearby water supplies. If executed properly, herbicide application can be an effective and sometimes necessary evil.

Weed management is imperative. Weeds will compromise your home’s defensive space against wildfires and they will out compete desired plants. They grow aggressively, stealing nutrients from vegetables and sucking up water, leaving your flowers parched and wilted. They take over meadows pushing out the native grasses and wildflowers, eliminating biodiversity and destroying the ecosystem. Some weeds omit a foul odor, others have prickly spines and thorns. They can be poisonous and a few are even fatal.

Each of us must be responsible for protecting our plot and everyone needs to participate. Eradication will be an impossible uphill battle if every time you pull a mayweed (false) chamomile, new seeds blow into your lawn from the weeds flowering next door. The Colorado Noxious Weed Act recognizes that certain undesirable plants present a threat to the continued economic and environmental value of our state’s lands. It is the law that noxious weeds are controlled using the most ecologically responsible, safety contentious, and cost-effective management methods possible.

The Colorado Weed Management Association has created a small booklet describing noxious weed species. Their website,, the Colorado State University Extension, and the Summit County Weed Management Commission are great resources when it comes to vanquishing vegetation.

Once you are victorious, don’t leave an inviting bare patch of soil for the next weed species move in. Autumn and early spring are each excellent times to sow a wildflower meadow. Some seeds require the cold nights to germinate and once the weather is consistently warm, the snow melt will create moist soil for sprouts. Native meadows are fairly low maintenance and a beautiful alternative to weeds.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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