Cheatgrass is an invasive plant that has invaded over 50 million acres of rangeland in the western U.S., making it one of this region’s most widespread and damaging invasive plants.
Cheatgrass can outcompete native plants, reduce wildlife habitat and livestock forage, increase fire risk and frequency, and degrade soil and water quality.
This article will show you how to identify, prevent, and eliminate this invasive plant.
What Is Cheat Grass?
Cheatgrass is an invasive grass that can ruin your lawn, garden, and mood.
It can also harm the environment, wildlife, livestock, and human health.
Here are some facts about cheatgrass:
- It came from Europe, Asia, and Africa but now grows in many parts of the world.
- It is an annual winter plant that produces thousands of sticky seeds that spread easily.
- It grows in disturbed or overgrazed sites and outcompetes native plants.
- It creates a fire hazard by drying out early and carrying fire across large areas.
- It injures animals and humans with its sharp seeds and causes skin irritation or allergies.
Cheatgrass is not a friendly plant. It is an enemy that you need to eliminate. But how can you do that?
The next section will show you how to identify cheat grass and distinguish it from other grasses.
Cheatgrass can form dense stands with around 10,000 plants per square yard, excluding other species and creating a fire hazard.
How To Identify Cheat Grass?
Before getting rid of cheatgrass, you must know how to recognize it.
Cheatgrass is a slender grass that grows up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall. It has soft, hairy leaves that are flat or rolled inward.
Cheatgrass seed heads are drooping and have long awns (bristles) that can be green, purple, or brown.
They are small and round and can easily attach to clothing or fur.
The grass usually matures earlier than native grasses, turning from green to reddish-brown in late spring or early summer.
Here are some other things to look out for when identifying cheatgrass:
- Cheatgrass grows better in disturbed or overgrazed sites.
- Cheatgrass forms dense stands and thick dead layers.
- Cheatgrass dries out early and carries fire.
- Cheatgrass injures animals and humans with its seeds.
Why Should You Get Rid of Cheat Grass?
Cheatgrass is not only an eyesore but also a menace. It can cause serious problems for you and the environment.
Here are some reasons why you should get rid of cheatgrass:
- Cheatgrass outcompetes native plants by using up water and nutrients, forming dense stands that exclude other species, and producing a thick layer of dead material that prevents seed germination and growth of other plants.
- Cheatgrass increases the risk and frequency of wildfires by creating a continuous fuel source that dries out early in the season and carries fire across large areas.
- Cheatgrass harms wildlife by reducing food and shelter options and injuring their mouths or eyes with its sharp seeds.
- Cheatgrass threatens human health by causing skin irritation or allergic reactions from contact with its seeds.
- Cheatgrass degrades soil and water quality by altering nutrient cycling, increasing erosion, and reducing infiltration.
Cheatgrass can also reduce carbon sequestration and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
How To Eliminate Cheat Grass
The best way to eliminate cheatgrass is to prevent it from establishing itself in the first place by maintaining a healthy lawn or garden with native or desirable plants that can compete with cheatgrass.
You can also use mulch or landscape fabric to cover bare soil and prevent cheatgrass seeds from germinating.
However, if cheatgrass has already invaded your area, you can try some of these methods to remove it:
Method #1: Manual Removal
You can pull out cheatgrass by hand before it sets seed, making sure to dispose of it properly in a sealed bag or container.
This method is labor-intensive and may not be feasible for large infestations.
Method #2: Herbicides
You can use herbicides labeled for cheatgrass control, following the instructions carefully and applying them at the right time of year (usually in fall or early spring).
However, herbicides may not be effective on mature cheatgrass plants or large infestations.
They may also harm other plants or animals if not used correctly.
Method #3: Soil Bacteria
You can use soil bacteria that inhibit cheatgrass growth, such as Pseudomonas fluorescens strain D7.
This bacteria is applied as a liquid to the soil surface and can reduce cheatgrass density and biomass by 50% to 70%.
However, this method is still experimental and may not be widely available.
Method #4: Targeted Grazing
You can use livestock, such as sheep or goats, to graze on cheatgrass when it is young and palatable before it produces seeds.
This method can reduce cheatgrass cover and fuel load and increase native plant diversity.
Note that this method requires careful grazing intensity, timing, and duration management to avoid overgrazing or damaging other plants.
Method #5: Reseeding
You can reseed your area with native or desirable plants after controlling cheatgrass to restore the plant community and prevent cheatgrass from reinvading.
You will need functional follow-up care to make this method work.
Moreover, there is no easy or quick solution to eliminate cheatgrass.
You should use a combination of methods and repeat them over several years to achieve lasting results.
Cheatgrass is an invasive plant that can cause serious problems for you and the environment.
It is important to identify cheatgrass and remove it as soon as possible to prevent it from spreading and dominating your lawn or garden.
Depending on your situation and preference, you can use various methods to eliminate cheatgrass, such as prevention, manual removal, herbicides, soil bacteria, targeted grazing, or reseeding.