There's so much more to a great yard than just mowing the lawn.

Russian Thistle: Pull It!

Now that we’ve covered two easy weeds, let’s move on to one of the bad boys on the block. Meet Russian thistle. This is one you definitely want to get rid of if you have it.

Russian Thistle Seedlings

This is a group of small Russian thistle seedlings. Notice the thin, string-like leaves

Here’s what it looks like. As a small seedling, it has thin, string-like leaves that are succulent and soft. The stem often (but not always) has reddish-purple striping. As it gets older, it branches into a rounded bushy plant. Here’s a two-minute video that shows you what Russian thistle looks like as a tiny seedling, small plant and mid-sized weed.

Remember those western movies where the tumble weed blows through the foreground? That could be Russian thistle. After it matures, the above ground portion breaks off the root and gets blown around by the wind, scattering the seed everywhere. Talk about a good seed dispersal strategy.

Russian thistle is described in the book Weeds of the West as “…one of the most common and troublesome weeds in the drier regions of the West.” Here’s why:

  • First, with just a little moisture, it grows very rapidly creating a big mess in landscapes before you know it.
  • Second, once it flowers, each flower is surrounded by a pair of spiny bracts. These bracts make the weed sharp and unpleasant to handle.
  • Third, tumbleweeds are a pain to dispose of because they’re so large. Just a few mature plants will fill up your trash can.
  • Fourth, dry tumbleweeds can create a fire hazard when they collect in large groups.
Russian Thistle Mid-Sized Weed

Here’s Russian thistle as a mid-sized plant. Notice the reddish-purple coloration on the stem.

In home landscapes, I find Russian thistle mostly in parkways, along driveways, and peripheral areas that don’t get a lot of attention. In my landscape, I just found a patch of seedlings growing under a tree at the corner of our property.

Just like horseweed and prickly lettuce, Russian thistle is an easy one to pull. I don’t see any need to spray it in home landscapes. If you get to it before it flowers, you don’t even need gloves to pull it.

Be sure to get this one while it’s young. Know that with each weed you pull, you are making a solid contribution to creating a “tumbleweed-free” Colorado.

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