Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

Weeds, - and the persistence thereof

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

We all have our own particular weeds we can’t stand, don’t like, or just wish we didn’t have to put up with that annual fight when the plant decides to grow and we wish it wouldn’t. Weeds have a way of unwelcoming themselves and showing up without invitations, at expected intervals, time and time again. One would think they would get the hint, but they do not.

A “weed” is basically described as an unwanted plant growing where you don’t want it to grow. One can get more elaborate with additional definitions, - but why? They come unannounced, expected and unexpected, and pretty much take care of themselves with the necessary concern one normally gives a plant they particularly want. Because weeds have been around for as long as man has had opinions, control of weeds is annually promoted by herbicide companies, agricultural bulletins, and a host of other media intending to tell you the best ways to rid yourself of these unwanted guests. Without control of some kind, weeds will take on the persistent mother-in-law approach and move in with no intention of moving on. Control of such a situation becomes first and foremost, with barrel vision focus on the unwanted guest, and with preeminent decision and action by the person who is not interested in developing affection for the creature.

Long ago, before man really farmed, he basically hunted and gathered food. I guess you could call this natural selection where he could pick and choose what he liked to eat, - much like kids do today. He either killed or picked what he wanted and ate his catch daily. If it tasted bad, Mr. Caveman left it and maybe something else forged on it. There wasn’t many of him around, so things didn’t get in his way and bother him like weeds do today. Everything was treated equal and eaten by all organisms with man a part of the food chain, - think about it.

As civilization grew, along came little houses with picket fences, as well as bigger and longer fences, which were designed to keep things out. All of a sudden man declared himself “in charge” and decided what could and could not come into his fence. He then classified plants into two categories, weeds and non weeds, with non weeds welcomed and weeds, - well you get the picture. The weeds, being weeds, entered his domain “unwelcomed.” Since then things haven’t been much different.

How to get rid of those pesky little varmints is a never ending task. Many people attack them early in spring through hand-to-hand combat with various garden tools. Others choose to use the quiet approach and spray them with toxic chemicals which also can be effective. Still others will revert to their ancestral way and BURN!, - ridding their domain of everything, including the weeds, in the hope that the weed has met its fate in much the same way wickedness was treated in medieval days by flame and with an “at the stake” attitude. Regularly and often met with a subtle grin from the weed, the weed seed can benefit from the heat of the fire and attain a greater viability after such heat treatment.

Biological control is also used as a combatant in controlling unwanted guests. This is probably the oldest weed control method in the history of man but has gained greater popular attention in the Modern Age. Today people think of biological control as using various insects to control something they like less than the insect doing the controlling. However, the controller doesn’t have to be an insect. Goats have been used for years to eat what you don’t want as well as some things you do want. Various types of biological control can also be used to get rid of unwanted relatives who have over stayed their visit.

Each pest has its own strengths and a few weaknesses. To overcome one’s personal infestation of weeds and end their visitation rights is to learn the weed’s “window” of weakness and meet it with a knock-out punch. What the weakness is, is for you to find out. However, one must be careful when providing that punch. It is important to only “hit” the pest, so to speak, and not some good guy standing nearby minding his own business. Often times a treatment will do harm to beneficial organisms, plant or animal, as well as good.

In this age of labels and warnings, all herbicides, as well as other weed controls, come with various cautions. Often times, when the weed controller is ready to control, he also has another ingredient in his well being called frustration, - which isn’t really all that well. This has developed over time, as the weed has created its attendance and dominance, with a forth coming crescendo that can be prophesized as the land owner decides to bypass the label directions and give that rascal a good concentrated dose of what’s good for him. Providing too heavy of a dose can be just that, - to heavy! This can lead to soil sterilization, health concerns to other organisms in the area, including you, and other hazards which might be worse than the weed’s attendance. “Read the label” means just that, - READ THE LABEL!