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We can help keep nature in balance

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Susan Ballinger

Since early March, our foothills have been ablaze with a sequence of blooming wildflowers.  Starting with sagebrush buttercup, over 50 different kinds have bloomed and set seed during the three months of spring in Wenatchee’s foothills.  To ensure a repeat performance next year, we can all pitch in to help keep non-native weeds from taking over habitat needed by native plants.  Consider dedicating 30-minutes and a bit of elbow grease to weed-pulling, either on your own property or along any of our community trail systems.  In our lives filled with complex daily problems, it is very satisfying to tackle a weed patch for a concentrated bit of time and see dramatic positive results for years to come.

Our region’s shrub-steppe provides living space for a suite of native plants and animals that have co-existed together for a long period of time in the same geography.  Pocket gophers nipple on roots and tubers of perennial wildflowers … beetles feed on developing balsamroot seeds … Yellow-bellied marmots munch on a variety of fresh greens and flowers … thatching ants tend aphids on the stems of lupine … Nature’s system of checks-and-balances creates a steady-state landscape filled with diversity.  However, starting with European settlement in the mid-1800s, many plants native to other regions of the world have been introduced here as seeds and thrived.  Some arrived on the hooves or fur of livestock, others were mixed in with seeds or feed grains, and many came with the help of a human shoe or as a desired garden plant.  Many of these hardy plants found themselves in a new habitat without natural predators, and have successfully invaded and over-taken their new life-is-easy terrain.  We call these noxious weeds.  

A good “first” weed to battle is difuse knapweed  (Centaurea diffusa) which is widespread in Chelan County, often along trails and roads.  Later in the season, it becomes beach ball –sized and is a sharp and scratchy irritant to legs of hikers along our trails.  

Ideally, you’ll pull a bolted pre-blooming plant with gloved hands, grasping the stem near to ground and yank out a carrot-like root.  Bring along a trash bag to collect these tenacious plants as they will continue to flower and set seed if left on the ground.  Then, year-round when you pass this patch of ground, you’ll feel proud of your accomplishment as you watch new young native plants like lupine, sprout and grow.

Consider contacting the Chelan County Weed Board botanist Julie Sanderson to get technical help to make a weed management plan for your property. Contact Julie at 509-667-6669 or use the website at http://www.co.chelan.wa.us/nw/default.asp.

Susan Ballinger is a naturalist and educator who is involved with the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. She can be reached at skylinebal@gmail.com.

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