Ask a Question forum: milkweed and thistle

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May 16, 2016 8:12 AM CST
Hello! I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I'm planning on starting a couple of beds of milkweed for butterflies. I have a pretty bad thistle problem. My questions are:

Will the milkweed be able to compete with the thistle? I can't always keep up with the weeding, though I do my best.

Is there a variety of milkweed that's aggressive enough to choke out the thistle? Because that would be awesome and I would plant it everywhere.

Thanks in advance!
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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May 16, 2016 8:25 AM CST
Thistle is a pretty aggressive weed, and once you start your new bed for the milkweed you're going to be watering which will also encourage the thistle. Milkweed is pretty lusty, once established but don't forget once the butterflies find it, the caterpillars will eat every leaf down to the stems, so you'll have bare sticks off and on in that bed. Plant something else like maybe Gaillardia (also a butterfly plant) or Salvia (hummers love it) in between your milkweed to keep something green in the bed and discourage weeds.

I'm sure you'll clear out the thistles as you plant, then mulch around your new plants with a good thick 3 or 4in. layer of wood chip or other organic mulch to try and discourage the thistles from re-seeding and coming back. Mulch will also help your milkweed plants (and others) by keeping the soil more moist and cool. Organic mulch works much better than stone or rubber, for example, because it mats together which really prevents seedlings getting through. It also enriches the soil as it breaks down and provides much better insulation than the non-organic stuff which heats up in the sun and retains heat.

If you see thistle plants coming up, put a plastic bag or a sheet of clear plastic over them and let the sun burn them. Be careful to remove it once the weeds are cooked, as it will also heat up the soil and prevent water getting through. If you really REALLY get behind with the weeding, at least go around with a scissors and cut off the flowers on the thistle to prevent it re-seeding itself. This will help a lot next year.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Keeper of Poultry Farmer Roses Raises cows
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May 16, 2016 8:25 AM CST
Welcome! I don't know what type of thistle you are battling, but here the thistles seem to push up through everything.
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
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May 16, 2016 11:14 AM CST
The wild thistle I have around here attracts a ton of butterflies.

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