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This time of year I visit many folks who have been over-run by an outlaw, renegade weed. This invasive weed strangles it’s neighbors, is prickly to the touch and is, most importantly, very difficult to control. This unlikable plant is the Canadian Thistle. Spiky leaves and stems emerge in spring developing into tall stems from 2’ to 6’ bearing purple flowers in June-July. These flowers, once mature, will open emitting seeds that float on cottony wings carried by the wind. The seeds are very productive quickly germinating and beginning another generation of unwanted weeds. The roots of Canadian Thistle spread deep and wide making pulling not only difficult but also seemingly futile. Leave a portion of the hair-like root system and new plants easily sprout once again. So how do we control such an invasive weed? Depending on the severity of the infestation you will likely face a three pronged approach: pull, spray and till. Pulling the plant may seem futile (when it sprouts again in a short amount of time) but in fact you have taken some of the plants energy away and created a smaller target for spraying with an non-selective herbicide like Round-up. Mature thistle plants have hairy leaves that make applications of herbicide less effective than on emerging sprouts. Tilling plants (cutting off at soil level) takes additional vigor away from thistle plants making them less likely to re-emerge. The longer your weeds have been growing the longer they will take to get rid of. Mature stands make take a complete summer of diligent control to fully eliminate the problem. Be aware of “mother” plants growing in fields or natural areas near by. These may be feeding your yard with seeds this time of year. Consider cutting tops off stems with a string trimmer before they bloom to keep them from infesting your garden. Using Preen in beds can help control seeds that will soon be floating in from far and wide. If beneficial plants have been invaded by thistle they may have to be sacrificed for the greater good of the garden. It is nearly impossible to separate the weed roots from perennial plants.
Sorry for this doom and gloom weed report but I hope I may be able to help more of you identify and destroy this weed before it becomes more than a minor nuisance in your gardens.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!