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War of the weeds

GAYS MILLS - We moved to the house where we live now about 10 years ago. Rented it for a couple years and then bought it. It was nice to be out of the flood-prone area of town and up on a sandy shelf part way between the river bottom and the ridge. The 2.5 acres felt a lot roomier than the place in town.

The first year we were here, we noticed some “real pretty wildflowers” out in front of the property. And who doesn’t like wildflowers, right? So we let them go, didn’t mow, and felt fortunate to have such a beautiful scene right outside our door—rookie mistake, a big rookie mistake.

It turned out that those “pretty wildflowers” were attached to a very troublesome and invasive weed: Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea Maculosa). Spotted Knapweed is a biennial or short-lived perennial. One day some information mysteriously appeared in our mailbox, a few copied pages, anonymously put there by someone who knew about this pesky weed. Thanks, whoever you are, for tipping us off.  

The war of the weeds began. We started to work on control of the weed and have been working on it ever since. I have learned to grudgingly respect Knapweed as I’ve learned more about its stealthy ways. Spotted Knapweed is a problem in several ways. 

One. It produces a huge amount of seeds if allowed to mature. An old saying comes to mind: One year’s worth of seeds equals seven years of weeds. The seeds will stay around for years until the opportunity comes to sprout.  So, we had several years worth of weeds to “look forward to” after enjoying the small pink flowers for just a short time.

Two. Spotted Knapweed has a big taproot, which robs nearby plants of water and nutrients. They also send out lateral roots, which sprout and spread that way. They really hog and dominate what space they grow in. 

Three. Knapweed is not very palatable to livestock so they pass it up for other forages. This tilts the odds in its favor for invasion and taking over. Apparently, sheep will eat Knapweed and I’m thinking goats may eat it too.

Four. It is suspected that Knapweed is allopathic, meaning that it releases a toxin from its roots that stunts the growth of other plants. Chemical warfare!

So in the battle to defeat this formidable enemy, I have done the following:

1. Get it mowed before it goes to seed.

2. Spot spray individual plants with Roundup herbicide.

3. Do a controlled burn on the plot every spring.

4. Pull any surviving Knapweed that show up by hand (ugh!)

5. Plant winter rye, a fast growing grain crop that itself emits a poison to thwart other plants. I’m hoping that the aggressive rye will outgrow the Knapweed and its toxins will overcome the Knapweed’s toxins.

We’ve won a few battles against Spotted Knapweed, but the war continues.