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Love A Thistle

Updated on December 29, 2014

A Plant With Attitude.

I took time off gardening during winter, I should know better, plants don't pack up and take a siester just because the season has crept around to winter. My excuse to stay inside was the cold winds from Antarctica that managed to blow inland this year.

I don't need an excuse to pick up a book, but a cold antarctic wind is a great excuse for staying inside, next to a log fire reading a book from the TBR (to be read) pile. The thing I forgot is that plants still grow in an Australia winter. The air might be cold but for the most part only small areas of the mountains are high enough for snow. The only ice I am likely to see is from a frost, and after a frost we expect to see a lovely sunny day. There were not many frosts. Not this year.

Weeds always seem to grow faster than my vegetables and have no trouble invading the vegetable patch while I am inside keeping warm. By the time I feel motivated to plant some vegetables in spring, I find a forest of unwanted plants. This year some of the plants in the forest had thorns..

The Scottish thistle has a beautiful flower and in a week or two I am going to be able to admire the blooms. That is if I can force myself to take more time from my garden when spring produces warm sleepy days that call me outside. The thorns on a thistle are to help protect the plant. At the moment the thorns are working, think I'll have a cup of coffee while I work out what to do with my unexpected forest.

A Royal Thistle

Declared a Noxious Weed.

This thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286). James III issued silver coins with a thistle on one side in 1470, he also claimed that he founded the chivalric Order of the Thistle, but this not well documented. The Order's symbol is the thistle and James III's love for this plant is well documented. The order survives today due to the efforts of James II (England and Ireland) & VII (Scotland) (reign 6/2/1685 - 11/12/1688) and Queen Anne of England (reign 8/3/1702 - 1/5/1707). I am not surprised that I have always associated this prickly plant with a beautiful flower with Scotland.

Controlling Weeds in Gardens

Sometimes thistle get out of control and become a forest of prickly vegetation. One way to control a thistle forest is to spray with chemicals tailored for controlling thistles, but I am extremely cautious when it comes to using chemical control. It is important that protective clothing is worn when spraying, and because I value my health to much to ignore the warnings on the label, I ask myself if I want to add the extra cost of protective clothing to the project of removing a thistle forest.

What I do have is a lawn mower, a spade and good gloves to protect my hands. I find that if thistles are slashed before they flower the problem is reduced to one or two plants that can be lifted with a spade and removed. In a couple of years the thistle will only be a memory. The trick is to remove the single plant, yeah, its only one, but next year there will be more. This is the lesson that I seem to forget.

Traveling Thistle

This thistle is a native Native to Europe (i.e. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Moldova, Ukraine, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Yugoslavia, France, Portugal and Spain), western and central Asia (i.e. Afghanistan, Iran, northern Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and Pakistan.

Sometime over the last two hundred years this plant managed to hitch a ride to Australia and is known as cotton thistle, giant thistle, heraldic thistle, Scotch cotton thistle, Scotch cottonthistle, Scotch thistle, Scottish thistle, silver thistle, woolly thistle, and a noxious weed. Just one plant can produce up to 40,000 seeds and herbicides are almost useless because the leaves are hairy and difficult to wet. So the thistle patch in my vegie garden is not going to be around for long. Removal will consist of gloved hands a spade and pitch folk. Some plants are just not made for hugging.

And if left to itself likes nothing better than to take over the landscape. Pretty flower or not, the plant has to go.

Thistle in Flower
Thistle in Flower

Saying Goodbye to the Thistle

Waist high weeds are never good, their presence reminds me that I spent too much time inside instead of out in the garden (I was avoiding the cold winds of winter, sitting warm in front of my computer screen, distracting myself, thinking about Hub pages). Now I am facing down thistles that have been allowed to grow as high as my chest.

Over a coffee I decided that I have too many thistles for the compost bin, and just in case the large woody looking thorns do not compost as much as I would like, I might need to put some effort into getting rid of them. I could put the plants into the garbage bin, but I would need a strong bag for that, strange but strong garbage bags are hard to find these days, even stranger, the garbage truck doesn't like green waste, I'm to have a bin for that, and I'm supposed to pay for that bin, life is no longer cheap.

I could go and buy another compost bin, but I am in a hurry, I need to remove the thistles while I am motivated and before the flowers turn to seed. If the chooks (chickens) liked thistles the job would be easy, I could just toss the plants into their pen, but they don't like plants with thorns, a goat would be good, they like plants with thorns, but I don't have a goat, said goodbye to one who lived a good life, not ready for another goat just yet.

Burning them is an option, but neighbors don't always appreciate the smoke blowing into their yards, and there will be smoke, the green plants don't burn well. That leaves me with the only other option I can think of, one that works but leaves me exhausted. I will have to dig a hole, then very carefully slice the weed into pieces with a spade, and carefully move the pieces of thistle into the hole without the thorns stabbing my hands.

Once the weeds are in the hole, I stomping them down with a good pair of boots, at this point I can add some chook manure or fertilizer, something worm friendly, and then move the soil over the weeds, burying them the hole. Water the soil down and leave the ground to settle for a day or two, then plant some vegetables on top.

The thistle does not grow again, and the buried material attracts worms, this is why I plant my vegetables on top, still, it would be better to get to my weeds before they get out of control, could make that a New Years resolution, but, I know I will get distracted, but now that I have written this....only time will tell, distractions are easier than weeding.

Every Gardener Needs a Compost Bin

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      Moe Wood 4 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Oh, how I hate thistle. When I was kid some neighborhood boys threw a bunch of it in my long blonde hair. It was a nightmare to get out.