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successful thistle removal!

 
K Nelfson
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I have a huge patch of thistles that were generously left by the previous owner. They're growing on the drainfield of the septic system and there are PVC pipes sticking up here and there. I want to get rid of them but a traditional burn is out of the question. I've been toying with putting up a metal ring and burning off small areas then moving the ring after the fire goes out. Any thoughts? Is there a better way to remove the plants and their many seeds without using chemicals?
 
Luke Prior
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Location: Limousin, France
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Eat them! Thistle Roots Leaves and Flower are all edible! just make sure you cut off the spikes! yikes!
 
Bob Dobbs
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Just whack em down with a bush scythe or something before they set seeds, broadleaf plants tend to really hate being repeatedly chopped down. May take a while though...
 
K Nelfson
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Right. But they've already set seeds from last year.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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What kind of thistle?

I sell milk thistle products for medicine

Star thistle is a pain in the butt, good bee food but a pain to work around.

Others are worthless

All require different methods to control.
 
K Nelfson
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Not sure what type. There are at least 2 species. I'm very keen on developing bee food, so I appreciate the tip. Still, the location is a problem even if they are good species.

I know I'll have to work at this next summer, too, but for now I just want to destroy whatever seeds are in the area.

I'm in SE MN, if that helps narrow down the types of thistles.
 
K Nelfson
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I wonder if a scythe would do the trick... I've been wanting to get one for a while. Any recommendations?
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Both Canadian thistle and bull thistle are common. Canadian is rhizomatous, while bull is more biennial or short lived perennial--really different control strategy. In general I've been told that the beginning of flowering is the time of year when the maximum energy is in top growth compared to root storage. Wait too long, and cut tops will form seed. Finches love the seed. With cutting or pulling as a control, it seems like you benefit from having some stiff competition and growing conditions that favor the competition over the thistle. I have heard that Canada thistle favors conditions with low oxygen (either moisture or compaction or both.) The Acres USA-Albrecht-Walters guys (See "Weeds:control without poison" by Walters) talk about cation balance and depletion a lot in relation to weeds--but it seems like the evidence is not very well documented.

Life is always better with a scythe.
 
laura sharpe
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i find when i mow thistle, it just grows back so i can hardly think of cutting it down will control it. I put on leather gloves and yank it out after a good rain, it has never grown back yet .....talk about sustainable living options.
 
Jordan Lowery
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Star thistle seed can stay dormant in the soil for 100 years and still germinate. Stopping fresh seed is a start, but you want permanent relief.

The best strategy is to change the soil and or environmental conditions. Thistles are there for a reason, they are excellent indicator plants. Find out why they are there, fix the problem. Chances are they are just there to build soil back from a disaster or disturbance.
 
laura sharpe
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Ok i did my research on the weed i control, it is canadian thistle and it is actually illegal in Illinois (where i live). My mother died this year and when cleaning out her yard and garden, i found quite a few of them. Just like I have in the past when i find this, i watered down as i found them and pulled them....now i was under the impression the little ones were because a near by adult had let down seeds so i would look around and find all the plants but i also found i was wrong....

I just read that they propagate along lateral roots so indeed I was looking for a mother plant but not because it spread seeds but because its roots would make the little ones.

I guess the mechanism doesnt scare me so much because I know I have totally rid myself of infestations of this weed on several occations in my lifetime....i love going barefoot and these are the enemy to me. When pulling these weeds, I grab close to the damp soil and pull straight up...the taper root is amazingly strong, i have pulled many feet of those root up with most all the larger plants i pull up....the strong root is good news believe me you cannot pull dandelions this way...their sneaky roots break and remake the weed.

From what I just read, this tactic really should not work...this would leave all the lateral roots but it does. I guess with no energy going to these roots, they cannot pop out more plants. I just watch the area where i found the weeds for a short time (always thought this was slower seed sprouts I would find) and poof they are gone. Now I tend to have healthy soils...i hate putting out anything (but canadian thistle) out for the garbage man..i been known to steal my neighbors organic matter from the curb to compost. I wouldnt say that my poor conditions causes these weeds...they are weeds and they will find opportunity to sprout now and then...so what.

Have we all heard the term gorilla gardener? I just figured out I have been doing this forever. When I find canadian thistle in my yard...I weed all of my neighbors yards too. I hate the weed and it is amazingly satisfying to me to pull those long stupid roots out and kill the thing. You know I am smiling when I think of this lmao...hate them hate them.


One really good thing about these weeds is they are easily out competed by plants you like .
 
Cal Burns
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Read in one of Tom Brown's books about thistle being edible. Anyone ever cooked and eaten? Haven't seen any recipes that look tasty and they don't have the nutrient value of say dandelions.
We have a bunch of thistle in our pasture and yard that we've been pulling up and I've been throwing on a future hugel bed. Might need to just put in the garbage in case they re-seed. Know their presence is a sign of compacted soil. Is it pulling anything up from the soil that is useful?
 
Ben Plummer
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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In Samuel Thayer's "Forager's Harvest" he mentions eating the stalk of the Canadian thistle and that the rest is "inferior." To harvest late spring or early summer before flowering. He says to remove the leaves and peel it and that the stalk is good raw but better cooked.

Can't say I've tried it but who knows?
 
Renate Howard
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If you're allowed animals then penning some rabbits or chickens there will kill them. Kill the lawn too but you can reseed after you've moved them.

I used to use thick gloves and pull them. Mowing really keeps them in check, there might be one or two but they don't seem to multiply like the ones allowed to grow tall do.

Instead of burning with fire, you can put thick black plastic down for several weeks of hot sunny weather. Be sure to lay logs or stones around the edges - you want to trap heat AND block sunlight. If you can't find cheap/free black plastic, then some thick plastic contractor bags will do, just tape them together. If you know anyone who has a plastic pool cover, that will do nicely.
 
Ernie Schmidt
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Location: Olympia, Washington
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Mow down an area then cover with heavy black plastic. Two weeks of sunshine will cook any vegetation under it. It will be barren so plan on planting something else there.
 
wayne stephen
steward
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Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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I have eaten the stalks raw. Just peel and eat them. Tastes like an artichoke / cauliflower cross. They are a good chop and drop plant. I use a spade and cut the rosette at the base , they resprout quickly. I bet they are a good dynamic accumulator.
 
Jay Hayes
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Location: Missouri
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I spent the better part of my childhood chopping thistles out of pastures on my parents farms. The key to truly getting rid of them is to get the roots. They have unbelievable roots. I use a grubbing hoe, a home made 4x6 inch 1/4 inch thick head on a thick hickory handle about 4 feet long. It chops and digs and allows you to excavate a good 6-8 inches deep to grub out a majority of the root system. I find that mowing does little long term good and even a late season mowing will result in shorter thistles throwing amazing numbers of seeds. When i missed some thistles and they went to seed i would clip the seed heads before they let loose all their load and then throw them in a pond so the seeds would sink.

If you only have a small area I would go to town with a shovel and dig out about 8 inches of roots under each plant. As the ones that seeded in last year grow up do that too and they will be gone before long.

J
 
Adam Klaus
author
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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pouring vinegar on the thistles has worked well for me. i was surprised when some old-timers at an Acres conference reccomended this, but it works.
using a shovel, chop the thistles just below the soil line. then pour vinegar liberally all over the cut root stem and surrounding soil.
i use the cheapest distilled vinegar in gallon jugs from the grocery store. then make sure to sow lots of grass seeds or something like that to help recolonize the soil.
i know, it sounds odd. but it works well for the canadian thistles that can get pretty invasive around here.
good luck
 
John Polk
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According to what I have read, milk thistle is the only thistle that can be eliminated by hoeing.

And, I disagree with the statement above that all species, other than milk thistle are useless.
Members of the Cynara families (same as artichoke) have all of the benefits of milk thistle, and in addition, for making cheese from goats or ewes, they work better than rennet for curdling the milk - both longer lasting cheese, and better flavor. If you have ever had cheeses from either the Balearic or Canary Islands, it was most likely curdled with Cynara.

I also disagree with using plastic to solarize the soil. If you 'bake' the soil long enough this way to kill the growth and seeds, you have also killed the soil microbes. The quickest way to turn soil back into dirt.
 
K Nelfson
Posts: 129
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The spring has been wet and long but I finally got out to the drain field to mow down the new growth. There are some woody tall thistles and a variety of shorter ones. It's hard to believe the variety and number of thistles growing out there.

I sharpened my scythe (circular motion using a 3-$ stone from Menards) and mowed the whole works 3-6". It was very satisfying. Most of the growth was still soft and tender, which made it easy to cut. The hulking remains of last year's growth was the only difficulty.

 
K Nelfson
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Update:

I mowed the thistle patch 2x. This prevented any large growth. I managed to time it so that the flowers never developed into seeds. In spots around the edges, where the thistles had not blocked out the grass, mowing basically eliminated them. I guess the grass and clover came back and choked out the thistles. Mowing other areas, where the thistles were thick, resulted in a carpet of smaller thistles.

I put down a tarp in one spot and that worked like magic so I covered more of it with an old pool cover. The area is huge. The 19x37 oval tarp didn't cover all of it.

Now I need to plant something to fill the void. A friend told me he planted a "valuable" crop where there were thistles so that he would be motivated to control the weed growth. That would be a lot of onions/leeks/garlic, though. It's over a drainfield, otherwise I would plant native prairie grasses. Any suggestions for plants that are not too deeply rooted?
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 446
Location: North-Central Idaho
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books food preservation fungi hugelkultur trees
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I posted and article on my strategy for fighting back against Canadian Thistle. Basically it's a multi-front attack consisting of properly timed mowing, seeding species that loosen the soil (or using a broadfork to manually decompact the soil), and establishment of extra tasty plants to entice livestock into moving into that area to feed heavily/ create an association of tasty foods with nasty thistles. Here's the link:
http://traditionalcatholichomestead.com/2015/05/29/organic-control-for-canadian-thistle/
 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1253
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Mine have set seed. Tonight I"m cutting them, putting them in a box and burning them. We shall see.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 446
Location: North-Central Idaho
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books food preservation fungi hugelkultur trees
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I think timing is pretty crucial to get the best success here. I should have cut mine down last week, but the schedule didn't really cooperate. I'll be getting after them this weekend. I think you should ideally be cutting them down when about 25-50% have started to flower to get the greatest effect. I'm in the 70-80% range now, oh well better late than never right!
 
Darin Colville
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I've killed many species by mowing at the bud stage 2x in same growing season.
 
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