By Bill Kleiman
Nachusa Grasslands has a 20-acre prairie planting, number 91, http://www.nachusagrasslands.org/uploads/5/8/4/6/58466593/planting_91_-_2009_-_stone_barn_prairie_-_stone_barn_farm_unit_-_crew_-_c_considine.pdf that is coming along nicely with a thick cover of native plant diversity. But it also has about 100 birdsfoot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, small patches of plants scattered throughout.
I used the little tractor above with its 50 gallon tank to drive transects back and forth across the planting to find the trefoil. I did not use the boomless tip but rather a hand nozzle where I can spray almost as exactly as a backpack sprayer can. The tractor is nice for this purpose because it is nimble, you sit higher than in a UTV, and it is easy to go slow and look.
Why would I use a tractor instead of going on foot? I had about two hours to spare, the unit had not been burned so it was harder to walk through. The crew was busy with trefoil on another unit. So I loaded with 1 ounce per gallon Milestone (this is less than one percent and more than half percent) and non-ionic surfactant and drove slowly along.
My error, the miss, is that I should have done this work a week earlier because now about half the trefoil looked as above with seed pods forming. Those brown ones are full of seed mature enough to seed the ground. From experience, trefoil seeds last for a decade or two in the soil. This cohort of seeds will germinate not all at once, but they will emerge at various times in the summer and for many future summers. These are good traits for a plant picked to deal with heavy grazing.
Let us not dwell on why the Federal government is breeding this weed to be even more aggressive while also funding natural areas work to control it.
The trefoil got in there because a nearby degraded remnant has patches of trefoil. Likely deer and rabbits deposit seed in the planting.
I could not let the seed go. A few days later I went out three mornings in a row to re-locate the patches I sprayed (easy to do as I just followed the tractor tracks with my UTV). I tried clipping the plants with a scissors and I tried using a scythe to cut the entire plant, but I ended up concluding (with my daughter’s help) that simply tearing at the trefoil by hand worked fastest. I filled up 28 barrels with trefoil and added it to weed burn pile.
I also sprayed a bit of basal bark herbicide where the plants emerge for good measure. I covered this topic here: https://grasslandrestorationnetwork.org/tag/lotus-corniculatus/
Lesson learned: Don’t be late. Have a method to remind you where weeds are located. We use Field Maps (formerly Collector). Have a calendar warning. Don’t plant prairie into soils with weed issues. Don’t let legume weeds go to seed. If you create nice prairie plantings you won’t mind defending them from invasive weeds.