BEEF Daily

3 Tips For Stalking And Stopping The Wily Musk Thistle


Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, reminds us that it’s time to start thinking about controlling musk thistles.

I spent many summers of my youth chopping down the wily musk thistle. Still, when it came time to make flowers for my wedding in 2010, I found the fake thistles at Hobby Lobby to be very charming additions to my wedding bouquet, which I made myself.

I remember my grandpa -- a lifelong rancher -- commenting on the big day, “Amanda, do you know you have weeds in your bouquet?” I had to chuckle at his reaction, and I’m sure he will have the same response come May 30th when my sister walks down the aisle of our church carrying a bouquet full of those purple-headed weeds we all despise.

While fake thistles in a bridal bouquet might be harmless, the real musk thistles that grow in our pastures are certainly not. In the Hay & Forage Minute, Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, reminds us that it’s time to start thinking about musk thistles. “Does anybody like musk thistles? If not, how about doing something about them,” Anderson writes.


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Here are three things to note about musk thistles, courtesy of Anderson:

1. Spring is the time to start thinking about musk thistles.

“With all the rain the past week and a half or so, I’ll bet you’re anxious to get into the field for planting. Don’t forget, though, that this also is the best time to control musk thistles. And I’ll also bet that you can get into your pastures to spray at least one or two days sooner than you can get into row crop fields to plant,” says Anderson.

Read: Tips For Controlling Red Cedar and Musk Thistle

2. If you had the problem last year, chances are thistles will plague you again this year.

“Did you have musk thistles last year?” he asks. “If so, I’m sure you’ll have them again this spring. And the current rosette growth form is the ideal stage for controlling these plants this spring. That means spray herbicides soon, while your musk thistle plants still are in that rosette form, and very few plants will send up flowering stalks for hand-digging later.”

Read: Producers Have Several Options For Spring Musk Thistle Control

3. Any herbicide you use will work if you spray soon enough this spring.

“Several herbicides are effective and recommended for musk thistle control. My current favorite is a relatively new herbicide called Milestone. Another very effective herbicide is Tordon 22K. Be careful if you use Tordon since it also can kill woody plants, including trees you might want to keep. 

“Both Milestone and Tordon also will help control other weeds that usually appear later in the season. Other herbicides also can control musk thistles in pastures – like Chaparral, Grazon, Cimarron, Overdrive, and Curtail. A tank mix of dicamba and 2,4-D also works very well,” he recommends. Anderson stresses the importance of reading and following label instructions before using a herbicide on pastures.

“All these herbicides will work for you this spring if you spray soon, before musk thistles bolt and send up their flowering stalks,” he adds. “After flowering, though, the shovel is about the only method remaining to control thistles this year.”

Read: 6 Tips For Cost-Effective Weed Control 

How do you manage musk thistles in your pastures? Share your best methods with us in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 30, 2014

Here's a fourth tactic, but it demands proper management for about two to seven years to work well. Entomologists at the University of Kentucky have this to say: Musk thistle is a European weed that was accidentally introduced into the United States in the mid- to late-1800s. A method of biological control to reduce nodding thistle infestation in Kentucky involves establishing a weevil, the Rhinocyllus conicus thistle-head weevil, in areas where it does not yet occur. The thistle weevil, a beetle also native to Europe, was approved for release in the United States after careful study to ensure that it would not attack economically important plants. Since its release in the mid-1970s, it has thrived and multiplied in central Kentucky. The successful introduction of the thistle-head weevil has resulted, over time, in a 50 to 95 percent reduction in numbers of thistles in an area. For more information, google musk thistle Kentucky or go to .

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What's BEEF Daily?

BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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