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The Low-Down on Pulling Thistles

By critterologist
August 3, 2016

Sometimes, you find yourself bare handed in the garden and just have to yank out a thistle. Don't get hurt!

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Name: Wes
Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Wes
Aug 4, 2016 12:24 AM CST
My hands are leather by May. Gloves are fine if you need them. By all means, utilize tools in the toolbox. I hate gloves for the lack of feel, especially in tender perennials. Simply my opinion and experience. Thistles can be a nuisance but few varieties really hurt a hardened hand. YMMV...
Name: Mary
The dry side of Oregon
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MaryE
Aug 4, 2016 7:40 AM CST
I've pulled a lot of thistles that way when I was unprepared with gloves. We have Russian thistles, Scotch thistles and some others. Quite international! Some are kinder than others. Scotch thistles are our worst. It helps to know the enemy!
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
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Name: Critter (Jill)
MD (Zone 6b)
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critterologist
Aug 4, 2016 12:09 PM CST
Not a fan of gloves either, but I wear them now by necessity (doc's orders). I agree on the lack of "feel," but the Atlas 370 gloves are pretty good -- not as nice as bare hands, but lightweight and breathable enough that I'll keep them on instead of tossing them behind the sunflowers LOL.
I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
Birds Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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Bonehead
Aug 4, 2016 10:24 PM CST
Thistles can be eradicated by mowing regularly (or just cutting off the seedheads), no need for poisons. It takes a couple of years, but if they are not allowed to set seed, they will eventually go away.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: bron
NSW-Qld border Australia
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bron
Aug 5, 2016 5:56 AM CST
I too don't like gloves but recently had so many fingers and thumbs spiked by raspberry, eggplants and citrus that I have to be more careful. Sometimes with gloves the tip just breaks off so it's hard to remove them.

Anyhow with scotch thistles or giant devil's fig (which has nasty curved thorns n the stem and back of leaves, I dig as much soil away from the stem base as I can with a rock or stick, then as you observe, pull it out carefully.

If they r big (2" thick stems) and have already dropped dead leaves (which still have spines), I use secateurs to cut off most of each leaf so it drops into a plastic shopping bag or box, then starting at the top, gradually chop small pieces of the stem. If the secateurs are not super sharp u can use them to drop the bits into the bag. Also to pick up and drop in the dead leaves. Then leave a stem stump of a few inches and get some thing to dig around, and the thickest gloves u have to put it out. If it already is seeding, use the sharpest secateurs u have and try and make it fall into a plastic container without any of it blowing away. I agree it is essential to stop the spread. I pulled out heaps from my son's neighbour's place so he wouldn't have thousands. I asked and they were happy for me to do it.

If they are on a footpath where you are walking your dog, use a branch or whatever u can to bash them to one side then dig around and try and lever it out or if too thick bash the stem near the bottom so it won't grow till u come back and remove it.
Name: Lioba
West Fulton, NY (Zone 5a)
I love to make create something out
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Lioba
Aug 6, 2016 6:42 AM CST
I have a thicket of wild flowers and weeds along my property and creek. Thistle and burdock are intermixed with creeping myrtle, grapes, black raspberries, wild roses, golden rod, mushroom cap raspberries, milkweed, bishops weed, phlox, echinacea/yellow, grasses, honey suckle shrubs, willows, garlic mustard and so many plants I haven't yet identified. I couldn't possibly get all of them. They can be quite beautiful and bees and butterflies love them. So before they go to seed I chop what I can at the base, especially the burdock. Then pull the root later.

If I find these in the lawn I will pull because I don't want my pets to get hurt. I've stepped on them. Mowing doesn't always help when they lay flat. When dealing with these I wear gloves but nice to know the base isn't thorny.

The other issue I have is I live across from a meadow. I will never get rid of the poison parsnip, burdock, carrot grass weed, and oh the garlic mustard!
Name: Critter (Jill)
MD (Zone 6b)
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critterologist
Aug 6, 2016 8:05 AM CST
A friend told me of a demonstration done with canadian thistle, As I recall, a 2 inch section of root was placed into a large box (maybe 6x4') filled with clean soil (no seeds or other roots) and lleft in a field for the summer. At the end of the growing season, the box was opened... and was crammed full of thistle! That explains why deadheading and pulling doesn't necessarily work.
I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
Birds Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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Bonehead
Aug 6, 2016 10:17 AM CST
They ARE very tenacious plants. When we began mowing our front field, which was absolutely covered with Canadian thistle (cows and horses won't eat it), it probably took 4-5 years of mowing to really get it under control. I think I read somewhere that the seed will remain viable for many years, so it takes a while to eliminate it. No wonder it is considered an invasive!
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Donna King
Selmer, TN (Southern West TN) (Zone 7b)
Hummingbirder Garden Ideas: Master Level
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donnabking
Aug 6, 2016 3:22 PM CST
Deb, I'm not even sure a mountain goat could eat it. The leaves of this Canadian Thistle plants is prickley too, this plant, though it's reddish purple bloom is breathtaking, will eat you up! Here in west TN it's nickname is Fireweed cause it itches & burns if you get into it.
The Hooterville Hillbilly @ Hummingbird Hill
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
Birds Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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Bonehead
Aug 6, 2016 3:47 PM CST
Happened onto an interesting article that touched on several types of control - mostly geared toward farmers so maybe not as helpful for small gardens. Apparently some livestock will in fact eat the flowers, although I've never seen it myself. We've pastured horses, cows, and the stray goat over the years.

http://agrisk.umn.edu/cache/ARL02967.htm
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.

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