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The start of the season: threat of cheat grass, and OSU extension gardening classes begin soon

The calendar says spring is finally coming. But some of my plants think spring has been here for several weeks because they are in bloom! Really. And it's been too warm. After losing a couple of expensive ornamental trees to desiccation last year, I made a point to water every six weeks this winter because it's been so dry.

And then came the cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). I'm sure you have heard of it. If not, here is a little primer on why it's a problem. It is an annual, and a prolific invasive species which sets seeds early, and germinates in summer through early fall. These seedlings often overwinter and begin rapid growth in February. This early growth habit gives them an edge over all native species, and means they dry out earlier, becoming a fire hazard. Once it goes to seed, the wind delivers those seeds everywhere, where they collect between rocks, and under shrubs, building up a massive seed supply in one summer which can germinate over the course of the next three years.

But how to control it? Strategies should focus on preventing seed production and depleting seed bank reserves. Options include: 1. You can apply a pre-emergent herbicide/weed preventer such as Preen in the fall before the cheatgrass germinates. 2. If you have a small patch, you can pull it. (No chemicals involved.) 3. You can mow it twice (three weeks apart) in the spring to remove the seed heads before ripening. (It will re-grow seeds after only one mowing.) 4. Allow livestock grazing in spring to prevent seed set. 5. Apply an herbicide spray such as Imazapic in the spring or fall, or Glyphosate in spring before native perennial grass seedlings emerge. As with all herbicides, be sure to read and follow the instructions on the label.

There are several considerations to know and understand before you spray. The USDA Field Guide for Managing Cheatgrass in the Southwest, publication TP-R3-16-04 dated September 2004, may be helpful.

In my case, we have seven acres surrounded by lots of 2-5 acres, so there is too much cheatgrass around. Worst yet, I could not get a contractor to come out and spray last fall, so I have lots of cheatgrass clumps coming up. Some were three inches tall by Valentine's Day. Way too much for hand pulling, so I am forced to spray. It has also infested my flower beds, so I tried Grass-B-Gon ® on these. This product targets the grasses only, without killing many of the broadleaf plants (which are mostly still dormant this time of year). Avoid spraying it on other plants whenever possible. If you use this product, or any herbicide, be sure to read and follow the labels carefully. I am happy to report that it appears to be working. I carefully sprayed it on a flower bed of coneflowers and Lupine, and the Lupine are emerging while the grass is turning yellow.

The classes for Growing Vegetables in Central Oregon, which had been scheduled for March 5 in Madras, and March 19 in Prineville, have been modified due to venue restrictions, and will now be offered online as webinars via Zoom, with live moderators and a time for questions and answers. This method allows up to 500 people per class.

Two times will be offered, and the classes are free, hosted by the OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers. If you are interested, but do not have a computer, you could ask a friend who does, and sit and watch together. Details: Morning Class on Saturday, March 26 at 10 a.m., and an evening class Monday, March 28 at 7 p.m. Register at:

If you do not have a vegetable garden, but are interested in other gardening topics, the Spring Seminar may be your thing. Before COVID, the annual Spring Seminar was held at the Deschutes County Fairgournd. This year, it will be offered as a series of online classes via Zoom. The classes carry a modest cost of $5 per class and include live question and answer opportunities. It is hosted by local OSU Master Gardener volunteers, and the speakers are local to Central Oregon. Here are the class times and topics this year:

April 2 – 10 a.m. – Gardening Basics for the High Desert

April 2 – 1 p.m. – Water-wise Gardening

April 9 – 10 a.m. – Perennials and Shrubs that Do Well in Central Oregon

April 16 – 10 a.m. – Central Oregon Native Bees and the Plants they Frequent

April 16 – 1 p.m. – Composting

April 23 – 10 a.m. – Firewise Gardening

April 23 – 1 p.m. – Greenhouse Design and All-Season Growing

I have attended many of their classes over the last five years and recommend them wholeheartedly. To register go to: Spring Seminar. The classes are timed to help you prepare for the gardening season.

Stay tuned for more gardening journeys next month.

Marilyn Clark is an Oregon State University Master Gardener Volunteer, having completed the program in 2017. A member of the Madras Garden Club since 2009, she has been gardening in Culver since 2004.

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