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Ward Off Invaders

A complete series of five fact sheets promoting beneficial management practices (BMPs) to prevent and control the spread of invasive plants is now available from the Saskatchewan Forage Council.

The fact sheets offer BMPs for forage seed, hay, grazing, riparian areas, and transportation developed by people with expertise in all sectors of agriculture, says project co-ordinator Coy Schellenberg.

These are non-native plants that proliferate readily when introduced to areas outside their natural habitat where they face few natural predators to keep them in check. In short, they become weeds, very hard-to-kill ones.

In Saskatchewan common invaders are downy and Japanese brome, leafy spurge, common tansy, toadflax (yellow and dalmatian), Canada thistle, purple loosestrife, common burdock, scentless chamomile, round-leaved mallow, ox-eye daisy, orange hawkweed and knapweed (Russian, spotted, diffuse).

Some are classified as noxious or prohibited weeds under municipal or provincial rules which means some help may be available to go after them. The best way to find out the status of an unusual plant is to contact your municipal or provincial authorities. They, along with provincial forage councils and invasive plants councils provide information and possibly assistance in identifying and controlling these plants.

Invasive plants are a threat to native grasslands and riparian areas as they disrupt the natural checks and balances in an area. Often they take hold in remote areas where they go unnoticed, are difficult to get at and control with treatments that may be effective in tame hay, pasture, cropland and roadside ditches. Even in these areas, control can be a never-ending battle once an invasive species becomes established.

The overarching message with invading plants is that prevention is the first, best and most affordable option. Start by familiarizing yourself with these plants and how they spread, then plan for regular inspections of your land.

Invasive plant parts and seeds can arrive by water, on the wind, buried in the fur or hair of wild and domestic animals, on people s clothing, field equipment and vehicles. As such you could seed them down while you are haying, feeding or just checking on your stock without knowing it. There are a million ways for those wayward seeds to make their way into new areas, so the fight is definitely weighted in favor of the invaders.

An inspection checklist should include those places most at risk of accidental contamination riparian areas, pastures, hayfields, field perimeters, ditches, fireguards, fencelines, corrals, bale yards, winter feeding areas, livestock watering and salt locations, trails and runs.

Exposed bare ground is an open invitation for any undesirable plant.

Early identification is the key to control. If you do find suspicious plants, report them to your municipal weed control officer or a provincial weed specialist. Map and mark the infestations and take pictures for future reference.

Control strategies vary depending on the size and location of the infestation and often involve a combination of actions prior to seed set involving herbicides, hand pulling, mowing, grazing (high-density, multi-species, planned grazing), biological weapons (insects), burning and buffer areas. Cut and bale clean hayfields first. If necessary, consider breaking up tame hay or pasture and sowing an annual crop or fallowing for a year to allow for herbicide control.

10 tips to reduce the risk

1. Check for and remove plant parts and seeds from your clothing, horses, stock dogs, equipment and vehicles before leaving an area with known invasive plant infestations.

2. Try to minimize livestock and human activities, such as haying, overgrazing, bedding and feeding livestock, trailing, boating, camping, forestry activities, cultivation and the use of all-terrain vehicles in riparian areas that are at risk of infestations from adjacent areas.

3. Implement grazing strategies that promote the growth and vigour of native and desirable species in riparian areas, pastures and hay-lands to avoid bare spots where invasive plants can take root.

4. Don t forget that animals transport viable seeds in their digestive tracts as well as on their bodies and hooves. Quarantining new animals and feeding weed-free hay for 48 hours should provide enough time for the seeds to pass in the manure before turnout. Likewise, when moving cattle out of an area with a known infestation, consider arranging an area where they can be held and fed for 48 hours before turning them into a new pasture or moving them down the road. Avoid trailing cattle through areas with invasive plant infestations.

5. Use certified weed-free seed when establishing new pastures and hayfi elds.

6. Inspect ditches and any new areas for invasive plants before cutting them for hay.

7. When purchasing standing forages for baling or grazing, ask about invasive plants in the area and, if possible, inspect the field during the growing season. Purchase hay from fields cut prior to seed set. Store purchased hay and grain in a separate area to simplify the cleanup effort should the feed contain invasive plants.

8. Avoid transporting hay that contains invasive plant parts or seeds. If transporting hay of unknown or suspicious status, tarp the loads to reduce the chance of invasive plant parts falling off along the way. Avoid travelling near sensitive areas such as sand hills and rivers.

9. Be vigilant when bringing in or moving soil, gravel, trees and plants around your property.

10. Help create awareness by participating in local education and control initiatives. Inform your visitors and recreational users about the risk of invasive plant species and ask them to take precautions to reduce the spread.

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