High Desert Hoofbeats: Nov. 21, 2019

The only decorative plants that grow with much gusto in my yard are some tall, fountain-type grasses that have managed to spread wherever they can find an emitter on the drip system.

That’s just fine with me; I’ve given up on growing many of my favorite bushes and flowers because the soil is too sandy. I’ll let anything sprout in flowerbeds as long as it’s not cheatgrass, tumbleweeds or tamarisk.

What started out with just a few nursery-grown containers of fountain grass nearly 10 years ago has multiplied over and over, both in the number of actual bunches of grass, and the sizes of fountain-like fronds. Some of the bushy clumps are now nine feet in diameter.

I purchased and planted the taller grasses when we first established our scant yard as a means of transitioning our tiny L-shaped bit of lawn as it eased into the natural desert. I remember seeding the lawn on a chilly, early September day, using drought-tolerant buffalo grass. I was hoping for lower maintenance and lower water requirements. But the environmentally correct, drought-tolerant seeds didn’t take hold. I ended up over-seeding it with more traditional blue grass. What exists now is some weird conglomeration of turf that struggles against the impacts of three dogs that enjoy rolling on it and otherwise utilizing its inviting surface. I can cut the entire space with an old-fashioned, woman-powered push mower in less than 15 minutes.

The fountain grasses are a delight. They provide a border on the edge of the lawn, beyond which I fling things the dogs have left. The only bother with the fountain grass is the chore of cutting it all down before spring. I usually let the bunches turn yellow after freezing, leaving their tiny seeds for the birds to eat.

Their long blades and soft plumes add some dimension in a dormant landscape. After we cut it down, we cart the sheaves to the horses to munch on. Interestingly, the horses don’t like it much. Maybe they would prefer it if the grass was still green.

Little of this grass-related experience gives me qualifications to sit on the Grand County Noxious Weed Control Board, but I’m a voting member of it just the same. Not because I have an intense interest in weeds, but because the county has been having a hard time getting enough people to fill the vacant seats on the board. This is true of many of the county’s boards. People are busy. Our increasingly frenetic world makes a lot of folks shirk public service. But when I was asked to apply, I submitted my stats to the county and was soon an official member. (By the way, the meetings are open to the public, and the board is always looking for new members.) The weed board meets at a convenient time for me; at 4 p.m. six times a year on the first Tuesday of every other month, starting with January.

When I agreed to serve, I didn’t imagine there would be much controversy going on. After all, who likes weeds? I thought the only thing illegal to grow was marijuana or opiate-producing poppies. But the invasive nature of many non-native plants that grow here have botanical authorities at odds with some residents. This is particularly true of a plant called giant reed, which is often mislabeled as bamboo. The stuff grows fast, it provides hedge and privacy barriers, and it’s green, with beautiful tassels on the ends. It’s pretty. But it can spread where it’s not wanted and become a threat to local waterways. It is a legally prohibited plant in Grand County.

It’s the responsibility of property owners to rid their land of giant reeds, although some county aid is available to combat it. Officials are now taking steps to warn and take legal action against folks who wantonly let it grow in their yards.

When I exited the last weed board meeting earlier this month, I wondered whether the fountain grasses skirting my lawn were offenders. Was I harboring fugitive vegetation? So I snapped a few pictures of the plants and emailed them to Tim Higgs, supervisor of the county weed department. “I don’t know what they are,” he responded shortly later, “but they’re not on the county’s list of noxious weeds.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I could keep the grasses that I’ve come to enjoy. However, I do need to sharpen my shears, or better yet, buy new clippers to chop down this year’s growth. That’s certainly a lot easier than digging up all the plants.