Routt Commissioner Beth Melton: Explaining noxious weeds and why they’re such a problem

Beth Melton
Routt County Commissioner
Whitetop is a noxious weed that has been particularly prevalent this spring in Routt County. Officials urge landowners to help control the weed.
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Before I was a county commissioner, when someone said the word “weed,” I assumed they were either talking about cannabis or dandelions.

Now, I have served nearly a full term as a commissioner and personally completed the Colorado Master Gardener training program, and I have a whole new understanding about noxious weeds and why they are such a problem.

Colorado state law says that a noxious weed is one that has been identified by the state or county and:

  • Aggressively invades or is detrimental to economic crops or native plant communities;
  • Is poisonous to livestock;
  • Is a carrier of detrimental insects, diseases, or parasites; Or
  • The direct or indirect effect of the presence of this plant is detrimental to the environmentally sound management of natural or agricultural ecosystems.

Noxious weeds each cause their own problems — reducing the productivity of land, choking out beneficial plants, harming livestock and in some extreme cases rendering ranches unusable.

After two years of exceptional drought and receiving precipitation this spring, we are in the midst of a very problematic weed year. As we enter peak weed season, it is a good reminder that the law also states “It is the duty of all persons to use integrated methods to manage noxious weeds if the same are likely to be materially damaging to the land of neighboring landowners.”

Responsible land owners across Routt County are in a constant battle with weeds — as we all should be. The County Weed Program controls weeds in rights-of-way across the county, and control on private property is the responsibility of each landowner. A weed on your property this year will be a weed on your down-wind neighbor’s property next year, so it is all of our responsibility to do what we can to control noxious weeds.

I live in a townhome with a modest yard. Last year, I saw a patch of a suspicious tall plant with small white flowers and bluish-green leaves growing in a bare patch near my driveway. I got out my garden knife and spent several hours tediously digging up the deep taproots one-by-one.

This year, the patch was back. So, I took a picture of the patch, pulled one up, and took both to Todd Hagenbuch at Routt County CSU Extension. He immediately ID’d it as whitetop (also known as hoary cress — and a noxious weed that has been spreading rapidly inside the City of Steamboat Springs and across the county). Todd gave me some great information, including an herbicide to kill it. I also learned this routine likely needs to continue for many years until the seed bank in the ground is no longer viable.

I encourage everyone to take your duty to control noxious weeds at your own home seriously. Here are the steps to do it:

• Look for suspicious plants — anything that is growing in disturbed soil, has spread rapidly or just seems out of place is a good start. You can also get to know the most common Routt County weeds by taking a look at the Routt County Noxious Weed Pocket Guide at Co.Routt.Co.US/DocumentCenter/View/13414/Noxious-Weed-Management-Pocket-Guide.

• ID the plant — Routt County has many great resources for identifying the plant you’ve found to find out whether it is a noxious weed. A great place to start is the Weed Department website at Co.Routt.Co.US/216/Weed-Program or the Colorado Master Gardener’s office hours on Thursdays from 10:00 am-1:00 pm in the CSU Extension office.

• Identify effective controls for the weed — Controls are most likely to be manual (like pulling it up) or chemical (a herbicide) for a noxious weed in your yard. The Weed Program and CSU Extension have lots of information to help you understand what will be most effective.

• Keep at it — Unfortunately, many weeds are very tenacious. They may have seeds or rhizomes that persist for many years. Effective control means continuing your control as long as the plant continues to appear (and definitely before it goes to seed each year).

• Prevent new weeds — Many weeds can be prevented by having a healthy garden/yard. That means planting native and noninvasive plants, watering appropriately, and keeping your soil healthy.

Beth Melton

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