- Waterwise Gardening | David Salman
A Serious Weed is Loose in Santa Fe and Together We Can Control It
Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an invasive Eurasian annual grass that’s widespread in Santa Fe and across much of New Mexico. It‘s a problem of the 1st magnitude. In many areas of the Western US, native plant ecosystems have been replaced by Cheatgrass causing the widespread loss of habitat and greatly diminished wildlife populations.
Pet owners beware. The ripe seed heads are extremely dangerous to our dogs and cats as well as to wildlife. The finely barbed seeds ripen by mid-June and the sharp tips easily pierce skin, clothing and non-leather shoes and boots, As any northern NM veterinarian will attest, they readily get into pet’s ears as well as puncturing their skin where the barbed seed can move deeply into paws, flesh and even organs.
Once dead and dried by mid- to late June (it’s an annual grass that completes its lifecycle in one growing season), this plant becomes highly flammable and burns quickly with intense heat. Hence it presents an extreme fire hazard when growing around homes and outbuildings as well as under dry brush and junipers.
Together as a community, we can control Cheatgrass in Santa Fe. We can make a big impact on weed populations if we prevent Cheatgrass from forming ripe seeds. When we do the following simple tasks we can have a huge impact on controlling the spread of this invasive weed.
Go outdoors and look for where the Cheatgrass in growing. In early spring, it’s the first plant to start greening up. Look for green grass shoots in partially shaded areas under Chamisa (Rabbitbrush) and other native shrubs, in the dappled shade of Siberian elms, Russian Olives and other shade trees, on the north and east sides of coyote fences and in the ditches along dirt roads.
You can always pull this grass or use a Hula-Ho from February –April, but it can be labor intensive if you have large infested areas. Alternatively, in March, apply a natural, non-toxic herbicide to quickly kill young plants. Thoroughly spray with Burn-Out Formula II (a mixture of citric acid and clove oil. Available locally), or by mixing your own homebrew of household vinegar, Epsom salts and liquid dish soap*. Apply on a warm, sunny day when day temperatures are above 50ꜛ F.
*Homebrew herbicide recipe: 1 gal. cooking/cleaning vinegar + 2 cups Epsom salts + ¼ cup liquid dish soap (Dawn, Ivory or Dr. Bronners). Apply I a spray bottle directly to the green grass.
Or, from mid-to-late May, there is a 10-day window in which a well-timed mowing with a lawnmower or weed wacker will prevent the seeds from ripening. Wait until the plants have green, with just a touch of burgundy, drooping seed heads to cut them down. Homeowners, business owners, city, state, and federal offices should be ready to cut down the Cheatgrass during this 10-day window. Put this task on our calendars or pre-book a landscape maintenance company to help. Plan Now!
If you miss cutting the immature grass during the 10 day period in May, you’ll have to cut or pull the plants with ripe seeds in summer to diminish fire danger. And you must thoroughly rake up and throw the litter into the trash. Otherwise, the seeds will fall off and remain to germinate later.
Make this a Community Effort
Once you identify this weed, you’ll see it your own yards, neighbors’ yards, and the arroyos. Share this information and encourage your neighbors to join in the effort to control Cheatgrass in Santa Fe. As we make headway each year, it will improve our property values, quality of life and reduce the risk of grassfires. Each and every homeowner that makes the effort will have a positive impact. Together we can make a difference.
Important dates for Cheat Grass Control
March- apply a natural non-toxic herbicide to kill young plants.
Mid to late May- Mowing with a lawnmower or weed wacker to prevent the grass from allowing the seeds to ripen.
Lastly and least desirably, cut or pull the plants with ripe seeds in summer to diminish fire danger. And you must thoroughly rake the stems and seeds and throw the litter into the trash.