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Introduction to Weeds

What is a weed?  Believe it or not, a weed is ANY plant growing where you don't want it to grow. Of course this definition has a vague spectrum of examples, but in the end, determining a weed is a personal choice. Most people share a general idea of what a weed is, but it all depends on how you want your garden or lawn to look. 

If you still find yourself confused on what to have and what not to have on your property, the better question to ask is: What is an invasive weed? An invasive weed is a weed that spreads quickly and out-competes more desirable plants. An invasive weed is one that will take over your garden and make maintenance tedious, harder task. An example of an invasive weed is cheatgrass. The best way to take care of these invasive plants and avoid the tedious task of plucking them out is to take care of them at first sight and take care of them before they germinate.

There is in fact such thing that is worse than an invasive weed. This monster is an invasive non-native plant. An invasive non-native plant is one that has not evolved in our environment. This can be known as a foreigner invader and is often a garden escapee which reproduces rapidly. Why are these plants more troublesome than a native invasive weed? The answer is simple; these noxious non-native weeds have very few local natural enemies, which allow them to rise above and wipe out the enemy-prone native plants. Native plants play a vital role in our ecosystem. They support our local wildlife such as salmon. When non-native invaders such as knotweed and scotch broom get established, the native, natural habitat is wiped out, causing huge damage, such as the loss of salmon streams.

What can you do to support our local environment and your garden at the same time? Well, you can surround your garden with native plants allowing wildlife such as raccoons and deer to munch away on the much-preferred natives, while your roses and tulips stay untouched.

What about noxious weeds?  Noxious weeds are non-native plants that have been introduced to Washington through human action.  Many of these weeds are escaped ornamentals that have a high tolerance to harsh environments.  Because of their aggressive growth and lack of natural enemies in this area, these species can be highly destructive, competitive, and difficult to control. Noxious weeds are in fact everybody's problem. Even if they are not affecting you, it is in your best interest to remove them if they are in or around your property. Each year these plants cost the state of Washington millions of dollars in lost agricultural production, environmental degradation and maintenance and control costs. These species not only reduce crop yields, but more locally they can damage recreational opportunities, clog waterways, lower land values and poison humans and livestock.

Believe it or not, noxious weeds cause enough harm to the environment that there are laws that require weed control. Well then, since it is a law, you must want to know who is responsible for weed control?  YOU.  The law holds landowners responsible for controlling noxious weeds on their property. Since many are not familiar with noxious weeds, the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board http://www.nwcb.wa.gov or your local Noxious Weed Control Board are available to provide information on identification and control options. This brings up the question: How can I battle noxious weeds? There are several weapons available to combat these noxious weeds; here are a few:

  • Prevention activities, such as learning to identify and eliminate weeds before they are established;
  • Cultural methods, such as rotating crops and timing of fertilizer applications
  • Mechanical methods, such as hand-pulling and managing tillage practice; and
  • Biological methods, using natural enemies, such as insects and diseases that attack weeds and help suppress infestations.
  • And of course, if needed, herbicide control using EPA-approved products.  If an herbicide product is necessary, which should always be the last route to take; here are some simple guidelines to make sure little harm is done as possible.  ALWAYS read the entire label before buying a product. Some herbicides like Roundup will kill all plants that contain chlorophyll. Others, which contain 2, 4-D, and MCPA, will target broadleaf weeds such as dandelions. Never over-treat your lawn, as it will take 7-10 days before you see a sign of death on the targeted plants. Always allow a minimum of 4-8 hours before going back into the treated area. And of course never treat when it is raining!

When dealing with weeds, they fall under three categories:

§  Class A weeds are non-native species with a limited distribution in the state.  Therefore, eradication of all Class A weeds is required by state law. 

§  Class B weeds are non-native species that are established in some regions of Washington, but are of limited distribution or not present in other regions of the state.  In regions where a Class B is unrecorded or of limited distribution, prevention of seed production is required.  In regions where a Class B species is already abundant or widespread, control is a local option.  Most invasive, noxious weeds do fall under this category and is one that should be taken very seriously. 

§  Class C weed species are already widely established in Washington or are of special interest to the state's agricultural industry.  Placement on the state noxious weed list allows counties to enforce control if locally desired.

Now that you have a sense for where weeds might go, let’s look at the noxious nine and where they fall.