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Solutions: Cheatgrass Cutbanks

Problem: Bromus tectorum, Cheatgrass, aka Downy brome (that nasty annual grassy weed)

Cheatgrass or Downy Brome is one of the arch-weeds of the west; it dominates much untended land.
You can rehabilitate cheatgrass banks with natives like Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac. Walla Walla Washington, 18” annual precipitation.
Or you could plant Artemisia tridentata Big Sagebrush with Leymus cinereus Basin Wildrye. Columbia River 7” annual precipitation.

Bromus tectorum Cheatgrass is all over the intermountain west. It is an introduced annual grass species that is a weed because it does not produce anything of significant value for man or animal. It germinates over several months mainly in the fall when the rains bring enough moisture. It grows during the winter whenever the temperatures are above freezing. In spring it is one of the earliest grasses to flower, pollinate and drop its seed. Then Downy brome dies, dries out and becomes a fire hazard for most of the summer and fall. The seeds stick in your socks and the fur of animals.

Bromus tectorum cheatgrass can be defeated. The solution is establishing a more dominant native species while managing the space to discriminate against the introduced cheatgrass. In this Solution we show that Rhus glabra Smooth sumac can be the native plant you can use to convert your weed banks to erosion controlling native vegetation which stays green all summer with no irrigation, and the leaves display a brilliant red for a couple weeks in the fall. Red dried berry clusters feed songbirds all winter. Rhus glabra is a true xeriscape solution for areas which get low-medium precipitation.

Facts: Bromus tectorum Cheatgrass is a grass. It is a winter annual. It germinates all during the fall, winter and early spring when there is sufficient moisture. The seed does not remain viable for more than 2 or 3 years. If you can stop Cheatgrass from setting seed, you can reduce and perhaps eliminate it from the site.

Weed Control Strategy:

  • Kill Cheatgrass seedlings in the fall and winter, for example, in late October and again in early February.
  • Plant drought tolerant native plants February-March.
  • Hand weed as necessary to remove cheatgrass in the spring.

Our Solution

  1. When the Cheatgrass is green and growing in the fall and winter, spray the area at least twice about six weeks apart and maybe three times with glyphosate product at the rate of 2 ounces of 40% concentrated glyphosate product per gallon of water. A fine spray hitting most of the plants is all you need. Spraying until the plants look wet is a waste of money. The last time you spray should be about a week before you transplant your native plants. The reason you need to spray 2 or 3 times is because more weed seeds keep germinating.
  2. If you do not want to use herbicide, use a rototiller or a hoe. (See FAQs: Is Glyphosate herbicide safe for the environment?)
  3. From January through March, whenever the soil is not frozen and the soil is moist plant our Rhus glabra Estate Plugs™.
    • You many include other species such as: Achillea millefolium Western Yarrow, Artemisia tridentata Big Sagebrush, Ericameria nauseosus Rubber Rabbitbrush, Eriogonum umbellatum Sulfur Buckwheat, Festuca idahoensis Idaho Fescue, Rosa woodsii Woods Rose, or many others.

      Eriogonum umbellatum Sulfur Buckwheat

      Penstemon richardsonii Cutleaf Beardtongue

      Control Cheatgrass or other weeds that escape your spray by hand pulling or hoeing.
  4. Congratulations! You have just established a drought tolerant low maintenance Green solution to your weed problem.
  5. During future winters when the sumac is completely dormant (January-February) you may use light applications of glyphosate by hand boom around the planting to control Bromus tectorum Cheatgrass (be very careful not to hit the native plant stems with direct spray or to have any spray mist drift on green leaves). In a couple years the Sumac will dominate the site and fall-dropping sumac leaves will smother many weeds that try to germinate in the winter.

Shopping List

  1. Herbicide sprayer of a size scaled to your project (small ones will work fine for small projects).
  2. Glyphosate concentrate (40% active ingredient is the cheapest way to buy it at local farm supply stores).
  3. Rugged Country Plants Estate Plugs™

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