June 2, 2010

The curse of the desert

It's Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, or salsola kali var.tenuifolia. I hate the stuff and it is about the only plant I go after with vengeance and a sprayer. I am no fan of Monsanto, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Russian thistle shows up where soil has been disturbed, and is usually brought in by equipment. When our house was built, the ground was razed (much to my dismay, but I wasn't here to defend it) and consequently we had a nice crop of the stuff the first couple of years. Then I discovered what it was, and I have been vigilant to eradicate it ever since.

Thankfully it is an annual, and its seeds must be rather heavy because you keep finding it in the same spots and just downwind from it. It has magnificent survival techniques: the plant disperses its seed by breaking off at soil level when it has died and the skeleton tumbles along to another spot to start the cycle over; it also breaks off easily at soil level when you try to pull it up, and it grows, well, like a weed.

I have been helping my friend Linda, who owns property close by, and downwind, to battle Russian thistle at her place. Being an absentee owner, she does not have the opportunity to take this on herself. Unfortunately, her property was once a large horse operation, which means lots of disturbed soil, so going at it really requires stubbornness (read: hate) and time. Today I found to my dismay that I should have been out there weeks ago. With our wet winter there are places thick with the stuff, in spite of the fact that we sprayed our little hearts out last year.

But I was able to get about 1/3 of the infestation sprayed this morning. I fear that if we don't keep at it, her place will be overrun and nothing else will grow there. This is unacceptable to us: those well-manured ex-paddocks will one day be a garden and an orchard.


Gail said...

This do not have this type but we do have a thistle we battle constantly.

WE dig and burn, salt the roots and spray. Sometimes it works, others...

Our thistle has beautiful flowers but they quickly turn into millions of possible new plants. I use gloves, a feed sack and scissors and clip the flowers into the bag before they have a chance to seed. This slows things down until I can eradicate the entire plant.

Anneke said...

Russian thistle has very insignificant little flowers, in short, no redeeming factors at all. Life can be so tenacious.

webb said...

You might add Preen to your spraying regimen. It's a granular pre-emergent SEED killer. Well, I guess it doesn't actually kill the seeds, but prevents them from germinating. I use it spring and fall in my eastern garden and it helps a lot. I guess with tumbleweed, you need to figure out what time of year it germinates and sprinkle before that. It's a thought.

Always thought "tumbling tumbleweed" sounded very exotic and exciting - guess I was wrong!

Anneke said...

That's a great idea, thanks!