How to remove prickly bull thistle weed from your yard

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A mature plant can produce 4,000 to 5,000 seeds with a 90% germination rate every season. The seeds have parachutes and burrs, and spread by wind or hitching a ride on anything that brushes up against them. Bull thistle is extremely hardy, thriving in acidic and alkaline soils, heavy clay, and even gravel. It grows and spreads quickly, outcompeting native plants for water, food, and space. Plus, most grazing animals aren’t a fan of eating it due to the spines, at least initially (more on this later), so it’s often left untouched and growing happily in pastures.

Before you remove bull thistle, it’s vital to make sure you’re identifying it correctly. Native thistles are integral to the local ecosystem; some, like the Sacramento Mountain thistle (Cirsium vinaceum), for example, are threatened species. You don’t want to remove them by accident. Identifying traits of bull thistle Cirsium vulgare include lobed leaves that are furry underneath and spiny on top but don’t have the marbled patterns seen in other thistles. The leaves also have unique “wings” that extend down the stem and up to the flowerheads. The flowerheads resemble messy cobwebs and the purple flowers are less spiny than other thistle counterparts. What’s helpful for your lawn or garden beds is that bull thistle seeds don’t last long in the soil. Less useful is that disturbing the soil — for example, tilling or planting new plants — around the time seeds are being deposited encourages sprouting.

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