COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At the time of writing this blog, the entire state of Colorado is under stay-at-home orders due to the Coronavirus. It’s a scary, uncertain time, and it is creating a lot of anxiety for most people.
I have the perfect activity to help. It’s something you can do while house-bound (you are allowed to be in your yard), releases all kinds of anxious energy, gets you out into the sunshine, and gets your hands dirty (the latter two are proven mood-lifters).
It is dealing with your winter annual weeds. Weeds that fall into this category include kochia, cheat grass, prickly lettuce, henbit, redstem filaree, and many of the mustards (blue mustard, flixweed, shepherd’s purse, etc). You do need to learn to recognize these weeds when they are first emerging (especially if you have sown any desirable seeds) so you can treat the right plants. While the Extension offices are mostly closed due to the Coronavirus, you can still email pictures in for identification, or you might find your weeds pictured in one of these two guides: https://agronomy.unl.edu/documents/Identification%20of%20Winter%20Weeds.pdf or here: https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2079/2015/06/Weed-Seedling-Identificaiton-Guide-Montana-Ext.pdf
Right now is the perfect time to get out there – – winter annual weeds are just emerging from the soil, and are very easy to kill with just a hoe, or even hand-pulling, depending on how many you have to deal with. At this stage of growth, they have almost no root system, and require a minimum of effort. Plus, the soil is probably moist after the winter precipitation, which makes it easy to work. Also, the winter annual weeds will mature and set seed sooner than summer annual weeds, so they are good to prioritize.
I have recently moved to a house on 1/3 of an acre, mostly covered with kochia, cheat grass and bindweed, so I have lots of therapeutic activity ahead of me. I have thickets of kochia coming up from years of plants dumping their seeds into the soil.It will be much harder to deal with any of these plants once they have fully grown, have established root systems, and tougher stems. And if you let them get to the point where they are about to drop seed, then you will have to pull and bag the weeds. So much easier to deal with them now.
One of the things I like to think about when I am working on winter annual weeds is how much future seed I am keeping from getting into my soil seed bank. For example, one cheat grass plant can produce 500 seeds, and one kochia can produce over 14,000 seeds. So even pulling a couple of plants could prevent thousands of future weeds. It’s even better than the return on investment with mending clothes (remember that old saying “a stitch in time saves nine”)? And one swipe of the hoe, I am preventing hundreds of thousands! Why, I am a veritable super hero.
Many winter annual weed seeds fortunately do not remain viable for very long; often just 1-2 years in the soil. This means that if you keep any of your current crop of weed seeds from maturing to the stage where it can set seed, you will actually be able to clear your yard of these weeds with just a couple years of diligent effort.
I wish I could say the same of bindweed!
— Irene Shonle, El Paso County Extension
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