Noxious Weeds: Stop the Invasion
Our neighbor Kristen De Lay is an expert gardener and environmental advocate, and tells about plants that can harm our local ecology. This is an update to an article we published in 2020. You “mite” learn something new and valuable to keep Southern Gables in good standing with the birds, bugs, and bees.
Myrtle Spurge, Cheatgrass & Field Bindweed
My husband and I walk our neighborhood every day and we love getting to see all that our neighbors have growing in their yards. On these walks, we have also seen some weeds that should be removed and it’s possible that many of us don’t realize how to identify these nor have the information needed to properly and safely remove them. I wanted to write this blog post to help our community identify three of these and provide resources for removing them.
What is a Noxious Weed?
Invasive species of plants can be trees, vines, perennials and even grasses that are not native to our region. They don’t have natural predators (animals or bugs) that help control them, are resistant to disease and are able to spread at an alarming rate. Myrtle Spurge, Cheatgrass and Field Bindweed are all considered noxious weeds by Colorado.
Why Should I be Concerned?
The primary reason we should be concerned is because these species take up space normally occupied by native plants or they are stronger and take over the plants. This displacement reduces food sources and habitats of our native bugs and animals, essentially adding to their decline.
Myrtle spurge is a gray/blue succulent plant that flowers between March and May. Before I knew that these were noxious weeds, I actually thought they were really pretty. I have even seen them being sold in Taos, NM, which shocked me. (I did let the plant manager know.) Common names of Myrtle Spurge include: Donkey tail spurge, Myrtle Euphorbia, Creeping spurge, Blue spurge, Broad-leaved glaucous-spurge.
In doing my research for writing this, I learned that when the flowers (actually bracts) release their seeds, it is really more of an explosion. They can send them out 15 feet from where the original plant is growing. In addition to seeds, they can reproduce by any plant stem or root that was not completely removed.
This plant is extremely toxic. Per Jefferson County Invasive Species Dept., people have ended up in the hospital because of burns they have received when handling this plant without the proper protection of gloves and even protective eyewear.
When you consider removal, please do your homework and make sure you wear the proper protection or consult a specialist to help you. I have removed this weed wearing thick garden gloves and protective glasses and I threw it away in the trash. This isn’t something to put into a compost bin.
Here’s a video from the Colorado Weed Management Association:
As you can see by its name, Cheatgrass is a grass. It is also known as Downy Brome. In my picture you can see both Cheatgrass and bindweed. It is one of the first grasses to turn green and by July, it has turned to a reddish or straw color and is beginning to drop its seeds. It is also highly flammable when dry.
Cheatgrass is very common around our neighborhood and I am constantly pulling it in my own yard. The seeds are very prolific and can even get stuck in animal fur and be easily carried to different locations. It is very easy to pull as the roots are shallow (wear gloves!), so if you see it, pull it and also throw this guy in the trash.
Here’s a video on this one from Colorado Yard Care that provides great information:
Field Bindweed is rampant in our neighborhood and it is really hard to control. Their root systems can grow up to 20 feet deep into our yards and their seeds are viable for 40 years! Here’s a great Bindweed resource where I gathered this data from the Colorado Dept. of Agriculture.
In my yard, I try hard not to use herbicides like Roundup; however I did use it on this. But, it didn’t work! The Bindweed kept coming back. In my research, I have consistently read that pulling it when you see it, over and over and over again is the best way to eradicate it from your yard. It’s blooming now (June), so I’m regularly out hunting for it in my yard. If you can pull it before it develops its long root systems, it’s also a great win. Here’s a picture of what it looks like as a baby.
Last summer, I actually tried the bindweed mites that only eat bindweed, helping to biologically control the plant. I purchased the mites through the Colorado Department of Agriculture and received several strands of mite covered bindweed where I was instructed to wrap them around my existing bindweed, in a small area of my yard. It’s too early to say if it has worked, as it can take 2-3 years (yes, years!) to see if they make a difference. That’s a long time, but my bindweed isn’t likely to disappear any other way.
Learn more about how to order your own mites by visiting the Colorado Department of Agriculture website. You have to order well in advance (probably a year) and they are shipped in a cooler. Once you receive them, you’ll need to quickly apply them to your own bindweed. The bugs are so tiny that you really can’t see them. I think I only paid about $35 or so, if you’re up for the experiment and have a great amount of patience. Note: If you go this route, don’t also spray the bindweed area with herbicides, as you’d probably kill the bugs.
Be an Advocate for Removal
Jefferson County Invasive Species Management has some great educational information related to all noxious and invasive species around our area. I highly recommend that you utilize them when you have questions related to weeds. They have a lot of great information and really care about our area. Another great resource is the Colorado Weed Management Association.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or you can message our Southern Gables Neighborhood Facebook page.