Foxtail barley is a native plant found in Calgary. While it’s not classified as an official Prohibited Noxious or Noxious weed by Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development, Foxtail Barley can cause issues for our furry family members: the seeds can become stuck in fur, paws, the mouth, eyes, and noses—creating a painful and potentially dangerous issue for pets. When inhaled or swallowed they can be life-threatening without medical intervention.
What is foxtail barley?
Foxtail barley is a native plant found in Calgary. You’ve probably seen it in your community, growing in late spring and going to seed over the summer and into the fall. Generally located in disturbed soil areas such as construction sites and roadsides, Foxtail Barley thrives in soil with low nutrients and high salinity (salt).
The “foxtail” is made of seeds (known as awns). Late in the growing season, these seeds dry out and the foxtail breaks apart, spreading the awns in the wind. The awns have sharp tips, which help them stick to new locations and grow, by burrowing into the ground.
How is foxtail barley hazardous to dogs?
While it’s not classified as an official Prohibited Noxious or Noxious weed by Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development, Foxtail Barley can cause issues for our furry family members: the seeds can become stuck in fur, paws, the mouth, eyes, and noses—creating a painful and potentially dangerous issue for pets. When inhaled or swallowed they can be life-threatening without medical intervention.
What has the City been doing to help with the foxtails in Ward 12?
- Raise awareness of this native plant and the potential issue for dogs
- Parks staff have been removing foxtail barley upon seed head emergence beginning in late June from planting beds in selected parks in the trial control program, such as the Auburn Bay dog park, the Mahogany wetlands, and two other green spaces across the Ward. These sites will continue to be monitored and follow-up removal will be performed as needed.
- Mowing off-leash areas, parks, and other green spaces to reduce the number of plants. The Mahogany wetland area has been most recently assessed to see how foxtail barley is responding to being mowed. The entire seed head is not removed from all plants during mowing but it leaves far less of the plant to go to seed. The re-emerging seed head is only a fraction of the original size for plants that have been cut back. With continual mowing, it can be expected that less and less re-emergence will occur as we progress through the growing season. This will continue to be monitored for efficacy.
- Trialing micro clover and/or urban grass seed mix to establish turf stands resistant to plants like Foxtail barley. Micro clover and urban grasses help to minimize mowing, outcompete weeds, and feed bees and other pollinators. Specifically, by the Mahogany wetlands, Parks staff have over-seeded 3 test plots with micro clover with different ratios of grass-to-clover. This site is currently not irrigated, so watering is being supplemented through a water truck. Micro clover can be categorized as a slow grower so all plots will be continually monitored over the growing season.
What is the Ward 12 office doing?
- Talking directly with local developers to encourage them to mitigate the issue on their lands, since this is a large contributor to this issue in areas like Mahogany and Seton
- Maintaining consistent connection with Parks and the community and keeping both updated on what the other is saying, seeing, and doing
- Researching Adopt-a-Park resources to empower engaged community members to help trouble areas themselves
- Preparing other avenues of advocacy should the current approach prove ineffective
What can you do?
- Report trouble areas to 311 (either through the website, app or by phone). The statistics received through them will help target trouble areas and create policy in the future.
- Email our office about bad areas, especially if it’s City or developer land.
In your garden
- Cut foxtails short to prevent them from going to seed
- Pull them out by hand
- Pour boiling water on plants to kill them
For your dog
- Avoid walking through areas with foxtail barley if possible
- Keep dog hair/fur short around paws, toes, and armpits
- After walking: check the dog for any foxtail awns, especially in ears, crevices, or folds of skin, paws, and mouths.
- Remove awns with tweezers
- If a dog is sneezing, shaking its head, scratching, rubbing, or chewing right after a walk, take them to a vet immediately to be safe
Why not create a bylaw to remove foxtails within our city limits?
There are a couple of caveats to this. The first, and lesser, of the caveats, is that we would need approval from the provincial agricultural Minister before the amendment could come into effect because they don’t already include foxtail barley on their noxious weeds list. Likely not a big issue.
The larger of the caveats involves the ramifications of adding it to the list for The City and any landowner. By adding it to the list of noxious weeds our peace officers would be required to enforce its control. Meaning that if someone were to call to complain about foxtail barley our officers would be required to issue orders to control it or issue fines to the landowner. This would be regardless of the amount of Foxtail Barley present in any one location.
Bylaws on their own unfortunately don’t solve problems like this. They are designed to offer a punitive solution when education is unsuccessful. The bylaw can be effective at shaping public behaviour; our office will not take it off the table because of this.
The most efficient way to immediately/effectively control foxtail barley is through the application of glyphosate and there are concerns around its broad-based usage both in terms of general health along with its being a non-selective herbicide (meaning it kills anything green it comes into contact with).
Essentially, the concern is that adding foxtail barley to the list of noxious weeds would reduce the flexibility in terms of being able to address it. Although creating a bylaw is not off the table, I am hoping to work with Parks, developers, and community members to address the issue collaboratively.
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