After scotch broom: The challenge continues
April 4, 2014
Today a team of volunteers is hard at work near Nevada City, loppers and weed wrenches (also known as root jacks) the tools of choice to attack a stand of the ubiquitous and highly flammable scotch broom. Recent rains and snow have certainly assisted efforts, moistening the soil and facilitating removal of the strong root system of this invasive plant.
Each spring, concerned community members in Nevada and Placer Counties volunteer through the Fire Safe Council’s “Scotch Broom Challenge.” Today’s effort on Deer Creek Environs Trail is organized by Sierra Streams Institute.
If you live on Banner Mountain, the challenge May 12 sponsored by the Banner Mountain Homeowners Association should already be on your calendar. If you are not registered to volunteer, call the Fire Safe Council at 530-272-1122. This eradication effort will address Gracie Road from Banner Lava Cap Road to the lower portion of Gracie. Since this is a critically important evacuation route in the event of a fire, removal of scotch broom is essential.
And what about your own property, the road that fronts it, the driveway that accesses it? Urban and rural dwellers are affected. Efforts in your own corner of the world add to the safety of the community as a whole. Since the plant is easier to pull after rains, address it now. Check your entire property periodically each year.
The March into April blooms are yellow, very colorful. If you cannot pull the entire plant this month, at least remove the blooming stalk, which will prevent another generation of seed. Once seed matures and scatters (to several feet!), more scotch broom plants will emerge in future years.
Where scotch broom is removed, seed likely remains from previous years. Repeated efforts to remove all seedlings each year pays off. The younger the plant, the easier it is to pull.
Planting natives following scotch broom removal is possible. In established stands of broom, there may be so many generations of seeds that only an aggressive annual program of seedling removal will allow revegetation with appropriate natives. Thick mulches of chips will assist in preventing germination of seed.
If you have been viewing a nearby stand of scotch broom as a privacy screen, a weed barrier, or even erosion control, it is time to view this dangerous pest through another lens. Scotch broom is an invasive non-native, a very high fire hazard!! Through our efforts we can begin to eradicate it.
Select shrubs or native grasses that are considered fire-safe, and need no irrigation once established. There are many native plants to choose from. Some are even deer-resistant.
Native coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) is a good choice for a privacy screen and for wildlife. It is an evergreen that grows in sun or part shade. The cultivars with the grayest leaves are the most drought-tolerant. Deer may browse on it in winter, but spring brings new growth, so little damage is apparent.
Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) is a good deer-resistant evergreen screening plant, but does not grow with dense foliage close to the ground for weed control. If that’s what you prefer, select Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’. Both will grow in sun or shade, need little or no water once established, and are considered fire-safe. The bright yellow flowers in spring are a perfect substitute for scotch broom.
Deer grass or basket grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is an excellent plant for erosion control and is useful as a weed barrier. When I first planted it on my property, I spaced the young plants four feet apart, seeding California poppies between the clumps. Within two years from one-gallon plants, the grass overshadowed the poppies and all weeds. I suspect that few scotch broom seedlings would emerge through its thick foliage. But keep checking!
Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She will be teaching a class on composting at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley, from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. April 12. Please preregister, 272-4769, ext. 116. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information and details of upcoming classes, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.