Cheatgrass is commonly known by its scientific name as Bromus tectorum. It has other names like Cheat, Downy Brome, Cheatgrass Brome, Wild Oats, Downy Bromegrass, Military or Downy Chess. This plant is a known invasive, and in this article we will talk about how to get rid of Cheatgrass in your yard.
Cheatgrass is a winter annual that can be traced back to northern Africa, Europe, and southwestern Asia. It has since invaded and grown in many parts of the world. It is believed to be introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s through contaminated shipments.
The plant always thrives in an unbalanced ecosystem such as overgrazed rangelands. It expands faster into an area because of its faster production of seeds and its rapid growth. Research has shown that a balanced ecosystem with a healthy biological soil crust and native plant community can resist a cheatgrass invasion.
How to identify Cheatgrass
It is a winter annual grass that germinates in autumn, grows seeds over the winter period and flowers in early summer. It has smooth and slender stems, and leaves that are hairy. The leaves have sheaths that separate except at the nodes of the leaves where they attach to the stem. The plant grows up to a height of around 15-35 inch (40-90 centimeters). Its flowers are arranged in a loose cluster. It is a self-pollinating plant without evidence of outcrossing.
It has a fibrous root system and has lateral roots that spread to help it in absorbing moisture from the soil. This characteristic enables it to absorb moisture up to 28 inch (70 centimeters) deep. It uses this technique to eliminate any competing plant, therefore, making it easy for it to grow faster.
The grass can grow in any type of soil. It is most rampant in areas which receive rainfall of between 6-22 inch (150- 560 milliliters) per annum. It is also a very resilient plant that can thrive in soils with a very low supply of nitrogen. However, it does not do well in heavy and saline soils. It also thrives under low temperatures and slows down when temperatures approach 15 degrees Celsius (59 °F).
Cheatgrass seeds mature and disperse around late spring and early summer. The seeds can be dispersed by wind, sticking onto the animal’s fur or by rodents. They can also contaminate hay, grain or straw. Cheatgrass produces a lot of seeds which helps in its faster invasion of a region. One plant is capable of producing as much as 300 seeds. This makes it difficult to get rid of Cheatgrass completely. The plant turns from green to straw-like color when the seed ripens.
Cheatgrass seedlings are resilient and usually do well once the conditions are favorable for its germination. The only inhibiting factor to the seeds is moisture and once it is provided the seed can germinate and grow. The seed can maintain its viability to germinate for 11 years. On the other hand, if it’s buried the period will be significantly reduced up to around 2-5 years. Germination occurs mostly in the dark or diffused light. The germination process quickens if the seeds are covered with soil but the seed does not require contact with soil to germinate.
Uses of Cheatgrass
Its resilience and early maturity have seen it grow in areas where other nutritional grasses cannot grow. Due to the potential to cover a large area and with the volume it has, it has been used as an alternative to other grasses in grazing. Although, livestock can only feed on it before it matures and turns straw-colored.
Before the grass matures, it is usually tender and palatable therefore providing a good nutrient source for the livestock. Studies also show that the grass competes favorably with the native and perennial grasses in nutritional quality. This means that it is a healthy if not a healthier option for livestock than the conventional grass.
As a result of its early maturity and dense root system, the grass adds organic matter to the soil which helps in controlling soil erosion. The dense un-grazed cover of the grass helps to prevent raindrop erosion. It also helps ion water infiltration.
Cheatgrass as a weed
The grass is a weed that grows in rangelands, pasture lands and lands meant for wheat in winter in the U.S. Most of the overgrazed rangelands are covered in Cheatgrass. It is a constant problem to the winter wheat growers in the Western U.S. This is because it grows in the winter period and it has a more superior root system than most plants including wheat. Its roots have the ability to sap water out of the upper soil’s profile wilting the other plants in the process. Certain reports state that the grass can reduce wheat yield up to 30-80%.
It also increases the likelihood of fires. Cheatgrass is highly flammable and can kindle fires easily and make it spread faster. The perennial grasses tend to grow relatively slowly and they maintain their water content longer. On the other hand, Cheatgrass grows and dries faster. This makes it susceptible to fire. These fires also increase control costs. This is why many want to get rid of Cheatgrass in their yard.
Cheatgrass is injurious to livestock if it is consumed when it is almost mature. The mature Cheatgrass has long and stiff awns that prick and puncture the linings of the mouth, throat, and intestines of the livestock. This causes the animals to lose appetite and therefore weight loss. The eyes of the livestock are also sometimes affected. This is another reason why you want to get rid of cheatgrass.
How to get rid of Cheatgrass?
In the winter, the grass is always the first to grow. Its fast maturity and highly developed root system make it a threat to the other plants. The seeds take a minimum of two years before they can lose their viability. This, therefore, calls for very efficient and effective control options to get rid of cheatgrass. Here are some of the methods that you can use to control this weed:
Seeding is one of the ways to control Cheatgrass. It is usually used to restore the ecosystem in the rangelands after a wildfire. Grass with the scientific name Agropyron cristatum is used because the germination requirements for the native grasses are usually not clearly known. This a perennial grass that is native to Russia and Asia. The technique is called assisted succession. This method involves the use of a non-native grass species to control the problematic species. Agropyron cristatum has been found to be a fierce competitor to the Cheatgrass weed.
However, Agropyron cristatum can also exhibit invasive qualities and poses a strong competition to the native grasses. The only reason that it is used regardless of its invasive behavior is that it helps restore the functions of the native grasses. It is also resistant to wildfires and a good source of fodder for the livestock. It does not injure the livestock the way Cheatgrass does.
Another downside of using this plant is that using it alone will still promote the growth of Cheatgrass. Therefore, there is always a need to supplement it with sagebrush which acts as a foundation species upon which other species can grow. It also helps in diversifying the ecosystem.
There has been ongoing research on the best herbicides to be used to control Cheatgrass without affecting the native grassland. Two factors that determine the herbicide to be used include the application timing and residual soil activity. Application timing is divided into three major periods namely pre-emergence when Cheatgrass has not germinated. The second period is the post-emergence period in the spring when it is still a seed. The final period is the post-emergence period in the spring. Preemergence spraying is always the most recommended of the three methods because it is not likely to harm the native vegetation.
To achieve the best result in the post-emergence spraying, one is advised to spray in late spring. This ensures that the Cheatgrass population is severely affected because at that time they are mostly grown. This, however, puts the native grasses at risk because they always come out of dormancy around this time.
Herbicides with no residual soil activity are usually not used because they are only applicable in the year of application. In this case, it should be applied in the pre-emergence period. However, the pre-emergence spraying is always recommended because it is less likely to interfere with the native grasses.
Herbicides to get rid of Cheatgrass
The herbicides that are used to control Cheatgrass include imazapic, rimsulfuron, tebuthiuron, glyphosate, and indaziflam. Glyphosate, indaziflam, and imazapic are the three herbicides that have been the center of attention in the recent past. Glyphosate has no residual soil activity and can only be applied in the post-emergence period. This means that it can only be used for one year. It is recommended that it should be sprayed for five consecutive years to avoid decolonization.
Imazapic is the most commonly used herbicide to control Cheatgrass. It has also been the center of research in the past. It is preferred because it can be sprayed in the pre and post-emergence periods and has a residual soil activity of around two years. Imazapic is also approved for use in the rangelands. Indaziflam, on the other hand, is the new kid in the block. It was licensed in 2010. It has a residual soil activity of about 2-3 years. Indaziflam can also be used in controlling other invasive weeds.
These are the physical activities that can be applied to kill or inhibit the growth of Cheatgrass.
This method is effective in controlling Cheatgrass for two years. Prescribed burning helps in removing the highly flammable plant litter that the plant possesses in a controlled manner. It has been found to have reduced the level of growth of the native grasses, but it has been instrumental in the growth of fire resilient plants. In some cases, the burning of Cheatgrass helps fuel the growth of cheatgrass. Therefore, it is not always recommended.
This involves physical uprooting the weed. It is effective when the invasion of Cheatgrass covers a small area of the farm.
This is usually used in the growth stage to control seed production. However, this method might prove ineffective if the plants are short because they will not be mowed and therefore continue with the seed production process.
This involves letting livestock feed on Cheatgrass while it is still young and tender. This method, however, may only be effective if accompanied by another method.
Crop rotation is one of the most effective methods of control that can be used to control Cheatgrass. Crops such as sunflower, corn and grain sorghum are very effective in getting rid of Cheatgrass. The use of a moldboard plow is highly recommended to plant the seed at least 4 inches deep.
In conclusion, cheatgrass is an invasive weed that brings more harm than good. It harms the crops or plants around it by seeping all the moisture in the soil. Cheatgrass is also a fire hazard in the rangelands which raises the cost of containing the wildfire high. The weed should be controlled to reduce its negative effects on the environment.
Great Information. Thank you for publishing. We are wondering if we mow cheatgrass when the plumes are still green is it an effective eradication method? Will the green plumes still produce dried seeds down the road? #obsessedwithcheatgrass
Cheatgrass seeds only stay viable for 3 years or so. When my wife and I moved into our now country home the neglected back yard was nothing but cheatgrass. Advice from county weed guy was mow, mow, mow and mow some more. We planted regular grass seed and stayed on top of mowing (at least once a week) to not let the cheat go to seed. In less than 3 years there’s nary a seedhead of cheat in the back yard. Just on the other side of our wire fence it’s predominately cheat and I’m sure it sprouts in the yard but mowing controls it. It is annual and rather soft and nice UNTIL it goes to seed. After that it can lodge in the paws of dogs (requiring surgery $$$). And if they eat it …….even more expensive and painful to the pup. I’ve thrown away sneakers because they were so full of the irritating seeds I could’nt pull them all out. Hope this helps. P.S. Actually mowing almost daily will even eventually kill blackberries! When in doubt I just mow the crap out of an area over and over.