March is a great time to be in the country, as is any other month of the year, but… in March the end of winter is here, or at least in sight. Any snow now (and the long range forecast isn’t predicting much) won’t be around too long. Pastures start to green up, tree buds start to swell, the Canada geese have returned to the nesting boxes on my pond, and there’s just a feeling of renewal as the days get longer.
From my days on the farm as I grew up, March was a time when many farmers were getting their equipment ready for the spring field work and the planting season. Activity isn’t too frantic yet, but a lot of preparation is going on for the busy months ahead.
Sometime later in the month, a burndown herbicide might be sprayed on some fields to control weeds that germinated last fall before planting starts, and residual herbicides to control weeds later in the growing season might be sprayed and fertilizer applied to crop fields. Most farmers with cow-calf herds are well into calving season, although that can vary from early February to late May. Some will calve in the fall rather than in the spring. There’s nothing cuter than young calves in the pasture.
One question I frequently get in the spring is what kind of flower or weed is in some fields where it looks like a purple blanket. This is henbit, which can also be found in lawns, but it isn’t the main “purple flowered weed” that plagues people trying to maintain a nice green lawn.
Henbit is a winter annual, meaning it germinated last fall, flowers this spring, produces seed, and then dies. This weed isn’t a major problem for most growers because it will die before or about the time crops are emerging. However, in a dry year it can use valuable moisture in the soil that would have been there for crops and it can also serve as a host for a microscopic nematode, the most serious problem that attacks soybeans.
The purple flowered weed we commonly find in lawns, and blooms about the same time of year, is called ground ivy. It is a major problem because it spreads by stolons, or runners that will root at each joint, and it is a perennial meaning it comes up from the roots year after year. Pulling it will not control it because it will just come back from the roots. Its low growth habit means it easily survives mowing.
This weed is very aggressive and it will take over a lawn if not controlled. The bad thing is, it is most visible in the spring. However, the best time to control it and other perennial lawn weeds, such as white clover or dandelions, is in the fall. At that time of year the plant is storing food in the roots for the following year’s growth and herbicides applied then will be moved to the roots and provide better control. In spring, the plant is using those food reserves to put on new growth so herbicides may burn back the top growth, but it is harder to kill the roots and get long term control. Go to the archives on the acreage website and look for specific control recommendations for this “very horrible weed.”
Planting for Pollinators
If you are looking through seed catalogs, trying to decide on what plants to add to your landscape, remember to consider plants that are good for pollinators. You’ve probably heard of the colony collapse disorder that affects honeybees, but there are many other pollinators with declining populations. You can make a difference to these important species of insects. USDA estimates that about one-third of all food and beverages produced in this country are made possible by pollinating insects. You don’t have to do something on a large scale, you can help pollinators by picking flowers that are particularly beneficial to pollinating insects and including them in the landscaping around your home.
If you do a Google search for pollinators, you will find millions of links on this subject. Two websites I have found useful and would recommend starting with are the Nebraska Pheasants Forever (PF) website on pollinators. There are a dozen or more links on the bottom of the PF website with lots of information on pollinators. The other website is the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Once you are there, search for pollinators.
Something else you can do is build a bee hotel for cavity-nesting solitary bees. These insects will use these to nest and lay their eggs. Some basic suggestions or guidelines for building a bee hotel can be found in the NebGuide Creating a Solitary Bee Hotel, but unlike us humans (everyone should build a house with their spouse… once!), bees are not very particular so this is a good place to use your imagination! This would be a great project to do with a child or grandchild.
From this and future articles, you will be able to tell that I am a big proponent of helping pollinators. I have over 40 acres of pollinator habitat on my acreage and a local beekeeper keeps anywhere from six to 12 hives out there each summer. While mine may be on the large end of the scale, you can help by selecting a few good plants to include in your flowerbed. Often native plants are good selections because they not only are good pollinators, they usually are well adapted to Nebraska weather conditions.
Well, I’ve done it again, I went longer than Sarah told me I could, but I just had too many things I wanted to pass along. So until next month, have fun on your acreage!