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Could 2022 be the ‘Year of the Weeds’?

As the 2022 growing season comes to close (hopefully slowly), it is up to all of us to come up with the title.

For example, 2021 was “The Year of the Grasshopper.” While not all stretches of our reading audience experienced that hideous creature, there were plenty of areas that had grasshoppers at biblical levels.

Ten years earlier, in 2011, it was “The Year of the Aphid,” and I wrote in The Durango Herald: “I cannot recall populations at the levels we saw throughout the spring and summer and even into fall. The cause was most likely environmental, as the moisture in May followed by the warm temperatures may have caused a population outbreak.”

In 2022, we have had another reason to complain – and really what is a gardener going to do if we cannot complain – and that has been weeds. Rewind back to mid-June when we were sitting on pins and needles after about 2½ months of no precipitation. Coupled with incessant wind and 10-plus days with temperatures over 90 degrees, we waited for the fires to start and the rivers to run dry.

Then came June 19 and June 20 when more than an inch of rain fell, and for the most part, the moisture has been relatively consistent ever since. The grass is green, the squash plants are consuming the garden, and the mushrooms up in the mountains have been plentiful.

But so have the weeds. After a decent winter where soil moisture levels remained relatively high through May, we fell into the perfect storm of a rapid warming stage where seeds started to germinate followed by consistent moisture – the dream scenario for weeds, especially the annual ones.

The two most prevalent ones – based off my super-scientific data of text message photos, emails, site visits and my own yard – have been purslane (portulaca oleracea) and kochia (bassia scoparia). While I am fortunate to not have kochia in my yard, I have seen thick stands in town on vacant lots, on farms and along every roadside it seems.

Kochia is a summer annual, with germination starting in early spring. When it is a young plant, it is actually quite attractive with its fuzzy gray leaves. But as summer progresses, it can put on a tremendous amount of growth, branches rapidly and forms tiny, green flowers in clusters where the leaves meet the stem.

By late fall, it will die out and form one of our ubiquitous “tumbleweeds.” It is much easier to pull kochia when it is young, but if you do not get to it in time, continual mowing can help. The plant will keep trying to flower every time you mow so you have to continue mowing it until it is dormant. Each plant produces about 14,000 seeds, of which fewer than 1,000 are viable.

The award for the most popular weed in Darrin’s yard and garden (and I guarantee many of yours) goes to purslane. Another summer annual, it can easily be identified by its succulent leaves and mat-like growth habit. And that it tastes like citrus. Yep, a weed that is tasty. Seriously. It is good. So good, in fact, that in other parts of the country and in Europe you can find it for sale in seed catalogs and farmers markets.

It makes for a crunchy addition to salads, but I have reminded myself that as an owner of two dogs and a cat, I try to selectively choose where I pick it from. If you do not like where it is growing, fortunately it is very easy to pull or hoe (especially with this moisture), but it can redevelop from the taproot left in the soil.

All of this leads me to believe that my Grandma Neelan was correct when she said: “If it’s not your tush (she used different verbiage), it’s your elbow.”

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.