DIY Cheatgrass Management

May 30, 2022
Here are some pointers to help you manage cheatgrass on your property so it is neither a wildfire threat nor degrading the quality of your native vegetation for wildlife and personal enjoyment.

1. For cheatgrass emerging immediately around a residence
(within the 5ft “immediate” defensible space or  zone 1, as shown in the USFS graphic below):
Management options:
  1. Mechanical: Hoe germinating seedlings (in bare ground) or pull when larger. Remove growing plants before they go to seed. If already with seed and dry, remove plants carefully, bag and discard.
  2. Cultural: Install (or reinforce) hardscaping in this zone (concrete, rock, gravel, pavers) once the weeds are under control.
  3. Chemical: If on bare dirt or other hardscaping, a herbicide such as Roundup or the indaziflam/glyphosate combo Specticle Total may be used to kill cheatgrass and other weeds, but it is essential to follow the label directives: https://www.domyown.com/specticle-total-herbicide-p-21396.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjwjN-SBhCkARIsACsrBz6B82mCLYIPTvd6mmZl1bhKDjLXVpnaeWgq5bDybu75c3M6gyNutK0aAii1EALw_wcB.

Broadcast spraying is not a weed control method recommended for inexperienced applicators (see below). Consider getting a trained professional to do this.

All of these practices may need to be continued for several years to exhaust cheatgrass seed in the soil bank. 

2. For cheatgrass present in turf grass or ornamental beds within 50ft of a residence
(roughly the “intermediate” defensible space or zone 2,  as shown in this USFS graphic):
Management options:
  1. Mechanical: hand-pull seedlings before seed set. 
  2. Cultural: Establish or improve the cover of other vegetation in this zone, including turf grasses or native meadow grasses and forbs (low-growing, or ones that can stand mowing to 6” twice a season)
  3. Chemical: Only apply herbicides labeled for use in these landscape areas. This does not include the indaziflam products Rejuvra or Esplanade SC 200, but a sister product, Specticle FLO can be used (note, this is NOT the same as Specticle Total): https://diypestcontrol.com/best-sellers-google-feed/specticle-flo-herbicide?gclid=Cj0KCQjwjN-SBhCkARIsACsrBz43yXq-MJ7A3T81g0Nu2m6OW6ezb4c4UWn0cJEMbEQObVbHpyKCjr0aAowBEALw_wcB.

Broadcast spraying is not a weed control method recommended for inexperienced applicators (see below). Consider getting a trained professional to do this.

All of these practices may need to be continued for several years to exhaust and/or smother cheatgrass seed in the soil bank. 

3. For cheatgrass-established in natural areas at a distance from a residence
(not turf or ornamental plantings), in both open or forested areas (“intermediate”  and “extended” defensible space or zones 2 and 3,  as shown in the USFS graphic below):
Management options:
  1. Mechanical: only practical if very small populations are present that can be completely hand-pulled. Mowing will lead to seed-set in dwarf plants, and is not recommended.
  2. Cultural: Establish or improve the cover of other vegetation in this zone, preferably using native grasses and forbs.
  3. Chemical: Apply Rejuvra (the rangeland-approved sister product to Esplanade SC 200) according to label directions. https://www.environmentalscience.bayer.us/vegetation-management/range-and-pasture/products/rejuvra 

Broadcast spraying is not a weed control method recommended for inexperienced applicators (see below). Consider getting a trained professional to do this.

All of these practices may need to be continued for several years to exhaust and/or smother cheatgrass seed in the soil bank. 

4. Things to be aware of when broadcast-spraying Rejuvra (or other herbicides). 

If you are not prepared to take this on, consider getting help from a trained and experienced professional.

  1. Weed Identification: Be able to recognize cheatgrass in all stages from germination, through plant growth and flowering, seeding and as spent winter thatch. Be able to distinguish it from other annual or perennial grasses. 
  2. Natives Identification: Recognize your native or desirable plants so you’ll be less likely to hit non-target plants, know what you’ll be left with once the cheatgrass is managed and what you might need to do next for restoration. Be aware that the pre-emergent herbicide, indaziflam, will continue to inhibit seed germination of cheatgrass and some native grass species for several years after application.
  3. Equipment: A 4-gallon backpack sprayer is recommended since the area to be sprayed may require a lot of walking back and forth. Personal protective gear is required as noted on the herbicide label.
  4. Product: Indaziflam-based herbicides are not cheap. Expect to pay over $300 for a quart of Rejuvra concentrate (though it will go a long way once diluted, if you need that much). Plan to add a blue dye to the solution for easy visibility of areas sprayed and uniformity of application.
  5. Dilution rate: This must be very exact as per label instructions - between 5 and 7oz applied per acre for Rejuvra (or about ⅙ oz per gallon) Have an accurate measuring tube or a calibrated jug available. 
  6. Calibration and application: Broadcast spraying requires close calibration of equipment with an applicator’s working pace, on-the-ground practice and experience to ensure the correct amount is being applied in a uniform manner on the vegetation or soil.
  7. Time of year: Rejuvra is ideally put down before seed germination in late summer or early fall. Later spray applications may need the addition of other herbicides to deal with any germinated seed, but then care must be taken not to accidentally spray nearby desirable plants.
  8. Precipitation pattern: Rejuvra is best applied a day or so before the next rain or snow (so it won’t immediately wash off) but ideally with precipitation within two weeks of application (to gently bind it to the soil). Do not apply during rain or on top of wet or snowy ground.
  9. Product penetration: the herbicide must bind with soil particles to be effective. If there is thatch buildup from previous cheatgrass growth, layers of dead plant material may need to be raked off before herbicide application.
  10. Monitoring: Be prepared to observe carefully during the subsequent fall, winter and early spring seasons to assess the success of the Rejuvra application and if any follow-up treatment is needed. A second application may be necessary after 2-3 years once the herbicide residual activity has waned.

For further information on cheatgrass, its history in the West, biology and ecology, and role in wildfire propagation, please visit my other relevant blog posts