Summer Weed Control | Back 40 Land Management
Now is the perfect time to get a leg up on that weed problem you’ve been avoiding! As we approach the end of June, many weed species present throughout Northern Colorado are getting close to forming their seeds. Don’t give them the satisfaction of reproduction!
At What Point Do I Need to Treat the Weeds on my Property?
Deciding whether to implement some form of weed control on your property comes down to how you’d like to use your property, how much you’re willing to pay to get there, and whether or not the County has mandated the control of noxious weeds on your land. Perhaps you are just sick of those weeds that produce little burs and make a mess of your pet’s coat? Or maybe you have invasive weeds trying to take over your hay field? There are multiple approaches to gaining control over the weeds on your property, with multiple management timelines and price tags. But preventing this year’s weeds from going to seed and spreading, even more, is a great starting point to any weed management plan.
Don’t Let Them Go to Seed
Maybe you’ve noticed large purple flowers popping up on those prickly thistles, or perhaps some of those yellow-flowered plants growing all over the rocky hill in your yard are starting to fade colors. It doesn’t matter if these weeds are just putting out flowers or if they are close to losing their petals, all that matters is that you start some form of weed control before those flowers become seed heads. If you let them go to seed, they’ve won this round and you’ll have to wait for round two to try again. And round two is usually harder than round one.
If you’ve lost round one to the weeds, don’t be disheartened. There are landowners all over Northern Colorado like you who might’ve missed a narrow window of opportunity to kill this spring’s weed crop before they went to seed. But there’s good news – this window of opportunity is unique to different weed species! So maybe the cheatgrass has turned brown and is starting to get seeds in your dog’s coat, but there are likely other weeds you can still win the battle against!
For Those of Us Who Let Our Weeds Go to Seed…
So maybe the weeds are a bit of a problem, but you don’t have the time to constantly kill off small infestations as quickly as they pop up. It’s not like that piece of land is a pure stand of weeds anyway…
Sounds like the kind of situation where it’d be nice for someone else to do the work of keeping the weeds down! Well, that someone else is called Mrs. Mother Nature, and she would love to fight the weeds for you. Plus, I’m too busy blogging right now to take care of your weeds.
Bolstering the health of the existing desirable vegetation (whether that’s grass or not) and the soil that it’s living in will do more to control weeds long-term than any herbicide treatment. That’s not to say that herbicides don’t have their place – they are often the most effective first step in a weed management plan. But there are steps you can take towards improving the health of the soil and desirable vegetation that will work for you when herbicides are no longer practical.
Improving Soil Health and Desirable Plant Density
By avoiding disturbances to your soils, you can decrease the likelihood of new weeds emerging from the soil seedbank and colonizing the disturbed area. Just like with all living organisms, different weeds have genetic codes that program them to fill a niche in their ecosystem and occupy it. But the one thing that most weeds are programmed to do is colonize disturbed sites more efficiently than the other “nice plants”. Examples of soil disturbances that can lead to weed-dominated areas are building development, overgrazing and heavy off-road use.
One of the best ways to boost the health of your soil is by boosting the health of the plants living in it. A healthy soil is one that is hospitable to a diverse range of soil microbes, allows sufficient drainage, and has sufficient water and nutrient holding capacity. Healthy and diverse plants on a soil will increase the biodiversity of soil microorganisms, improve soil structure and increase the nutrients in the soil. Although over time even the most disturbed or nutrient-depleted soils will naturally start to support more diverse vegetation that can outcompete weeds, it’s much quicker to amend the soil initially and skip that part of Mother Nature’s plan.
As far as improving the density of desirable plants goes, increasing water available for plant uptake is numero uno out here in Colorado. And that starts with amending the soil. Adding organic matter (such as compost) is one way to improve the water holding and drainage characteristics of many soils in Northern Colorado. It also does wonders for nutrient holding capacity and microbial populations that are closely intertwined with healthy plant communities.
Water between 6pm and 10am, water deeply and less frequently, and make sure the sprinklers are pointing the right direction. Fertilization can be really helpful in both irrigated and non-irrigated settings and should be customized to the site of application based on the results from a soil test. Please visit this CSU Extension webpage for more information on soil testing and developing the correct fertilizer mix: http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/agriculture/soil-testing-0-501/
Creating a Sustainable Weed Management Plan
Look how far we’ve come already! You’ve decided that weed control on your property is a worthwhile endeavor, and even though some of those weeds have already gone to seed you know there are others who haven’t yet (we’ll get the little bastards!). You know a little more about how to improve the health of soil and plants on your property, and now you want to incorporate all that information into a sustainable management plan! I’m so proud of you!
When you hear about sustainable land management, more often then not a sustainable weed management plan is going to be a key part of the overall strategy. The idea behind sustainable weed management is that desired levels of weed control are achieved with limited ongoing management inputs (letting Mother Nature do some of the work for you).
After starting off with an herbicide treatment that targets specific weeds and doesn’t harm the plants you want to stay healthy, a sustainable plan might include the following:
– Creating a weed inventory of the land to be managed so that future control efforts can be timed correctly (specific to individual species)
– Mapping or documenting sites with weed infestations to compare year-to-year
– Seeding to increase the density of desirable species on the site, which will fill in the areas that weeds might’ve occupied
– A watering and/or fertilization program that keeps desirable vegetation healthy and able to outcompete any weeds that might try to invade
– Planting cover crops on areas that would otherwise be fallow or bare
– Diversifying weed control methods beyond just mowing or spraying
Combining multiple weed management approaches will eventually create a sustainable environment in which weeds are naturally protected against by the healthy soils and vegetation you’ve developed.