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Local expert predicts more tumbleweeds this fall

Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:46:44 AM CDT   Updated On: Jul 17 2014 09:37:02 PM CDT

Recent rain could cause a tumbleweed explosion similar to last fall's.

It's something we'd never seen before but we may see it again -- a unique onslaught of tumbleweeds in rural areas of southern Colorado.

Greg Langer of the federal Soil Conservation Service in Colorado Springs said recent rain is making tumbleweeds -- in its living stage as Russian thistle -- grow faster than usual.  When the plant dies after the first frost, it breaks off at the base and becomes a bush full of seeds that is moved by the wind.

Heavy rains last fall fueled an explosion of tumbleweeds that lifelong residents said they'd never seen -- covering entire homes, yards and roads.

Langer expects the same thing to happen this fall.

"With all the rain and all the seed that was scattered, we're in for pretty close to the same (amount), if not more," he said.

Langer said thistle plants currently are a foot tall or less, but too large to be effectively controlled by weed-killing chemicals.  He said thistles will be around 3 feet tall when they become tumbleweeds.

Langer hopes that experiences people had with tumbleweeds last year will help them be better prepared this year.

But many people still are dealing with last fall's tumbleweeds.  Madeline Newell of Truckton said she wore out four pairs of leather gloves in trying to remove the prickly plants.

"We have a smaller house that's still completely covered," she said.  "It's going to take us years to get rid of the (tumbleweeds) we have."

Langer advises people against burning tumbleweeds.

"Use a mower to chop them up, if you can," he said.  "Some counties are using chopping machines."

Max Kirschbaum, operations manager of El Paso County County Public Services, said the county still has 75 miles of roads needing tumbleweeds removed, but that the county's machine will prevent workers from falling behind as they did last year.

Pueblo County has a similar machine.


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