Visitors to Geiser-Pollman Park saw a strange sight Wednesday.
On the seventh of February.
On a date when the snowplow is the tool more likely to be employed in Baker City, Jason Wilson, who works for Grassmasters, the city’s maintenance contractor, was weaving a mower among the park’s trees.
The grass didn’t actually need a trim, to be sure. Wilson was instead gathering leaves and other debris.
Still and all, Wilson — who was working in short sleeves — is but one sign of how unusually mild this winter has been.
The balmy weather has prompted flowers to appear, as well as some invasive weeds (see stories below).
By Joshua Dillen
“Any time we’re approaching 60 degrees this time of year things are going to germinate and grow and come out of dormancy,” Grammon said Thursday.
Normally Grammon doesn’t start roadside weed control until mid-March or later.
The mild winter is something of a mixed blessing, Grammon said.
On the plus side, he can start dealing with weeds earlier — and so can property owners.
“It’s going to allow me to spread my season over something that’s a little more palatable,” he said. “Overall it will allow weed fighters to have a little bit longer season to deal with weeds.”
On the negative side, the weeds also have a head start.
“It’s kind of a backhanded positive,” Grammon said, “in that you have a longer window. The other side of that is there’s probably a chance that weeds can germinate over a longer window.”
In general, Grammon said the fight against weeds is not necessarily easier or harder in years with extreme weather conditions, but different.
“Every year is different and things could change,” he said.
If the weather turns to a more typical winter pattern, with freezing temperatures and snow, Grammon said he would have to postpone weed-control work.
Sprucing up city parks
The mild weather has allowed Baker City’s contractor, Grassmaster, to get a five- to six-week jump on weed control and other spring maintenance duties at the city’s parks, said Joyce Bornstedt, the city’s technical services administrator.
She said Grassmasters employees likely will start applying fertilizer at the parks next week.
“I expect we’ll be seeing all of those completed in the next week or so,” Bornstedt said.
Normally those tasks are slated to happen just before Easter and spring break.
Weeds to watch for
One noxious weed that is a familiar sight every spring will be making an early appearance this year.
“We’re going to have an early bur buttercup season,” Grammon said. “Bur buttercup is one of the first things that shows up. We’re starting to see it in the canyonlands by the Snake (River).”
Besides being one of the first invasive weeds to germinate in the spring, bur buttercup can inhibit the growth of desirable plants.
Grammon said using herbicides containing 2, 4-D are effective in controlling bur buttercup. Roundup is also effective but should be used as early as possible before the bur buttercup has a chance to bloom and produce seeds. Roundup is also useful because it is effective against many other weeds that might grow among or near bur buttercup, Grammon said.
By Chris Collins
Mindy Sherrieb, a volunteer with the Oregon State University Master Gardener program, said the unseasonably warm winter could cause trees and other woody plants to become dehydrated.
“The concern I would have with this type of weather is that the ground is not frozen and if plants are coming out of dormancy, they need water,” Sherrieb said.
And if a cold snap should come along before winter is officially over, it will be more detrimental to dehydrated trees and other plants than it will be to those that are well hydrated, she said.
Unfortunately, fruit trees might bloom early and get frosted if the weather turns harsh a few weeks down the road, and there’s not much home gardeners can do about that, Sherrieb said. Commercial producers, such as Eagle Valley Orchard near Richland, make use of frost protection systems to protect the valuable fruit.
The Eagle Valley farm purchased specialized equipment in 2013 after an offseason cold spell destroyed their crops.
Sherrieb said while lawns will remain dormant for the most part, this might be a good time to apply fertilizer, and to begin thinking about weed control — especially in the case of the early arrival of noxious weeds such as the bur buttercup.
“It’s pretty much up to the individual and what they’re going to be willing to do,” she said.
Sherrieb said her honeyberry bushes, which are in the same family as blooming honeysuckle but produce an edible fruit, will require watering in this mild weather. They usually bloom in the latter part of March anyway, she said.
“I can turn my outside water on fairly easily,” she added, advising gardeners to water plants in the morning.
That will give the plant stems a chance to dry before the temperatures drop during the night.
See more in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.