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Home & Garden: The fight against weeds

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist

Which would you prefer? A herbicide sprayed in the irrigation ditch which is degraded into harmless compounds by the sun and microbes, or fire that contaminates the air we breathe with cancer-causing compounds.

To some people herbicides are not to be used, yet quite often those individuals are the same ones out spraying weeds along their driveways and sidewalks. Compounds they apply to their own landscapes are the same ones used in irrigation ditches. If the proper herbicide is used along fence rows, and in irrigation and drainage ditches, it is tied up by the organic and clay particles in the water and soil, preventing its movement and allowing it to be broken down by soil microbes.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified outdoor air pollution as a cancer-causing agent. In its evaluation, the IARC has concluded that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and it also increases the risk of bladder cancer. Air pollution was already known to increase risks for respiratory and heart diseases, and with the new information on lung cancer development we need to take steps to reduce our exposure to these cancer-causing agents.



Colorado’s Revised Statute 25–7–102 states: “It is the purpose of this article to require the use of all of available practical methods which are technologically feasible and economically responsible so as to reduce, prevent, and control air pollution throughout the state of Colorado.”

When we have an issue with noxious weeds one method used to reduce their spread is the application of herbicides. Each year Mesa County budgets for the control of these weeds in part because they are required to control these weeds. County employees also spend time and effort cutting back these weeds and removing seed heads to prevent the spread of these weeds. There are a number of patches of noxious weeds in Mesa County that Melissa Werkmeister and her team are trying to control.



This is not a one-year process as Jude Sirota and her team spent time prior to Melissa locating, mapping, and managing these pockets of weeds. Some of these noxious weeds can be found in the city limits of various communities in Mesa County. Myrtle Spurge is a noxious weed being used as an ornamental on southeast Kathy Jo Lane, Fallen Rock Road, and Redtail Court. Giant Reed Grass is growing between 35 and 36 roads on Front Street in Palisade, and more than 100 properties in the county are known to have pockets of purple loosestrife.

The weed crew worked for more than 10 years trying to eradicate purple leaf strife with about 40 days a year expended on this effort alone. These weeds are not easy to eradicate. Many of these weeds are capable of spreading into agricultural land as well as native plant communities where they destroy the ability to grow crops and crowd out native plants. These weeds need to be treated with herbicides at a specific stage of their growth.

For that reason I would suggest you contact Melissa at her office at 970-255-7121 or on her cell at 970-210-0306 to obtain information on these weeds and their control options. I believe Mesa County still has a cost-share program for individuals needing financial assistance in controlling noxious weeds on their property. Melissa will have information on that project as well.

Herbicides are not the evil some people make them out to be. If used properly and by qualified individuals, they can be a tremendous asset in the control of noxious weeds as well as unwanted vegetation growing in irrigation ditches, drainage ditches, and fence rows. The economics of treating weeds using fire and herbicides needs to be determined. In most cases farmers who burned fence rows and irrigation ditches already own the equipment necessary to apply herbicides. Many of them are using these herbicides to control weeds on other parts of the farm.

Ditch companies often have the same equipment. It would be helpful if Colorado State University Extension, the accepted authority on agricultural operations, would put together an analysis comparing the cost of burning ditches and applying herbicides. Some growers and agencies burn in the spring and follow up with a herbicide application as the weeds recover. All of that needs be taken into account when determining the cost of ditch and fence row maintenance. Without a cost analysis local farmers and residents will continue their yearly ritual of burning. It would also be great if the health costs could be factored into that analysis, but that is a little too much to expect.

GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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