Avoid Fort Collins code violation by keeping weeds in check

Q: I heard there’s actually a law against having weeds in your yard; that’s not really true, is it?
A: It is actually a City of Fort Collins Code Violation (not exactly a law).

By Kathy Roth
Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County

Q: How does it work?
A: After a complaint is filed, an inspection is performed within two days. The city sends a letter to the homeowner, giving them a chance to correct the violation. The city “re-inspects”, then issues a ticket to the property owner if the problem still exists. From the city code: “Weeds and grass cannot exceed a height of 6 inches in yards/alleys or 12 inches in fields or undeveloped lots within city limits. Brush piles and noxious weeds are prohibited.”

Q: What are “Noxious Weeds”?
A: The “Colorado Noxious Weed Act” defines these as plants that are exotic (non-native; originated elsewhere besides our state) and invasive (crowd out and displace native plants). Several irritate both animals and humans by causing skin reactions, temporary blindness or even disease in ranch animals. They threaten biodiversity and ecosystem stability. A common characteristic of all noxious weeds is their aggressive, competitive behavior. They steal precious moisture, nutrients, and sunlight from surrounding plants. They alter plant communities, affecting local wildlife and livestock.
Q: What are their names? How would I recognize them?
A: Visit Larimer County’s Weed District website at: http://www.larimer.org/weeds/ The site has both the names and pictures of the ‘MOST unWANTED’ and suggests various control methods.
Q: How many Noxious Weeds in Colorado are there?
A: There are 71; but here are the top six offenders:
#1 Yellow star thistle has a bright yellow flower, with one to two inch spines below, creating a star-like appearance on the end of short branches. It can cause chewing disease in horses.

#2 Mediterranean sage is a biennial member of the mint family that reproduces only from seed. Plants overwinter as grayish wooly rosettes. Yellowish white flower clusters appear on branched stems in spring, and become tumbleweeds in fall.

#3 & #4: Myrtle spurge and cypress (leafy) spurge are two related offenders.
The first resembles sedum, but its leaves are bluish green with clusters of yellow flowers on top of short, stubby stems. Cypress spurge is a “leggier” version; an erect plant that can grow one to three feet tall. The heart-shaped, showy, yellow-green bracts have clusters of yellow flowers. Milky-white latex is contained in all plant parts and is very irritating to skin and can cause temporary blindness if it gets in contact with eyes. If consumed by cattle, it can irritate their mouths and stomachs, even causing death. Refer to CSU Fact Sheet #3.107 for more information: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/03107.html

#5 Purple Loosestrife is a wetland weed that robs waterfowl and mammals of their food sources, nesting areas, and access to water. Their lavender to purple blooms are very showy and arranged along a vertical stalk that grow approximately six to eight feet tall.

#6 Orange Hawkweed is a foot tall perennial herb producing 5-30 red-orange flower heads and is rarely seen around the Fort Collins area.

Q: What about the one that produces sharp, thumbtack like burrs?
A: Puncturevine (goathead, tackweed) isn’t on the “A” list, but is on the comprehensive list. This spreading, mat-forming plant has tiny 5-petal yellow flowers that produce spiny “fruit” that puncture bike tires and lodge in our pets’ paws. You can dig out young plants with a soil knife or hand hoe. If in non-vegetated areas, you can use a non-selective herbicide with glyphosate (Round-up, KleenUp). Fact Sheets with control methods on common, hard-to-control weeds are available on the CSU Extension website at www.ext.colostate.edu.

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