Noxious weed of the month: downy brome

By Ethan Proud
SUN Columnist
Cheatgrass is the common colloquial name for downy brome in Archuleta County, though the phrase can be referring to several brome species known for their early emergence.
Downy brome earns its nickname of “cheatgrass” due to its life cycle as a winter annual. Downy brome seeds germinate in the fall, remain dormant under the snow, and reemerge and produce seed as early as March. As it matures, it turns red before turning brittle and hard. It uses moisture that would be available for seed germination and out-competes native species.
Before maturity, it has a high protein content, but its usefulness as a source of nutrients disappears as it becomes unpalatable and its stiff awns may become stuck in the ears, eyes, mouths and noses of grazing animals. These awns may also become stuck in the skin of dogs and will work themselves deeper.
Downy brome is often difficult to control because to the untrained eye, it is hard to identify when it is susceptible to herbicide treatments. When using herbicide on cheatgrass, mark off the area and identify native grass stands so you are not inadvertently damaging the native ecosystem. Once cheatgrass produces seed, it is no longer economic to spray it. The seeds have a short viability of one to five years, and hand-pulling is both easy and effective. Cheatgrass has a very shallow root system and doesn’t require much tugging to free it from the soil.
Removing mature plants will prevent seed shed — downy brome produces an impressive 300 seeds per plant. Revegetation is always a necessary component to noxious weed control, especially when dealing with an aggressive annual grass like downy brome. Other grasses to watch out for are foxtail, ventenata, medusa head and bulbous bluegrass.
Upcoming events
April 30, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Pesticide Education Workshop at the Extension office. This is a free workshop.
May 4, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: The Farm Bureau is sponsoring a Land Stewardship Symposium and Wolf Presentation. Come learn about soil health, toxic plants, water as a resource and tree health. In the afternoon, you will hear from Mike Smith on insurance, and then keynote speaker Denny Behrens will speak on wolves and livestock. There is no need to register, just show up. Free lunch included.
May 25: Bee workshop. We will be heading to the Banded Peaks Ranch to visit with beekeeping experts and get hands-on experience with the bees. The workshop costs $25 and is limited to 20 people. Lunch will be provided. This is an all-day workshop, so please wear appropriate clothing and anything else you would need for being outside all day. Please call the office to sign up and pay.
Aug. 1-4: Archuleta County Fair.

This story was posted on April 29, 2019.