How to Get Rid of Goat's Head Weeds, Seeds, and Stickers
My Battle Against Goat's Head Weeds
I moved to beautiful Northern Arizona about 22 years ago and loved it immediately. After having lived for years in the southern desert, the area offered welcome relief from the extreme heat and the vigilance we had to keep up against harmful natural creatures.
When I moved into the new house with its large, fenced yard, I thought I would be able to create gardens full of happy plants. As a retired professional plant grower, I couldn't wait to create my own picturesque garden scape. Then I had my first encounter with a goat's head plant (Latin name is Tribulus terrestris). It also goes by name other names (see below for a list), but to me, this plant is quite simply "The Enemy" and I am at war with it!
It went like this: I was out in the yard and I reached down to pull a weed from an area I was clearing. I felt what I was feared might have been a sting by an unknown bug, but instead of a stinger, I saw a roundish, odd, hard thing stuck in my skin. I went to pull it out and was immediately impaled again on my other finger. I had not seen that there were several barbs on it.
After I got it out, I looked around and to my horror, saw that this plant was everywhere in my yard, and spreading rapidly! Goat's head weeds are like flypaper stuck to your hands and killing them seems impossible. My friends, you can control and kill goat's head weed and keep it from taking over your yard, but it takes patience, perseverance, and some good tools.
In this article, I'll share:
- What you'll need to get rid of goat's head weed forever
- What I tried that didn't work
- Season-by-season steps to kill goat's head weed stickers
- My recipe for a homemade weed killer (that works)
- How to safely use a propane vapor torch
- Chemicals that kill goat's head weed and how to use them
- What to do if you step on a thorn (and how to keep them out of your house)
- Plants that choke out goat's head weed
- Goats and goat's head weed
- Weevils that eat goat's head weed
- Other names for goat's head weed
- How this weed spreads so quickly
How to Get Rid of Goat's Head Forever
Here's what you'll need:
- Propane weed-burning torch (for large infestations; check your local laws regarding use of these devices)
- Protective gloves
- Epsom salts and white vinegar (diluted 1/2 cup each per gallon of water)
- Chemical weed killer containing Oryzalin (follow safety precautions)
- Good upright weeder/extractor
- Tarps to lay down after you spray
- Weed collection bin
- Weed puller (hoe, claw hammer, or lawn jaws)
- (Optional) Mulch to lay over treated and weeded area
Note: I Do Not Recommend Roundup
The main ingredient in Roundup is the herbicide Glyphosate. I do not recommend using this product as some research links Glyphosate to cancer.
What Doesn't Work to Get Rid of Goat's Head
Here's what I tried first: I sprayed the plants with my regular weed killer, but that didn't work. Then I spent the rest of the summer pulling them out of my front yard, one by one, by the roots. My back nearly broke, but I had cleared away a good area and was sure they would not return. Sadly, I was mistaken.
We had a monsoon in August so severe that the yard behind ours flooded and overran the small berm separating our properties. The result was that my yard was immersed in water for several days, leaving millions of goat's head seeds on the land around my house.
After All That, the Goat's Head Came Back
The next spring the plants all emerged again. I knew I had to refine my tactics. Now, after several more seasons of battle, I am a goat's head warrior!
Season-by-Season Steps to Get Rid of Goat's Head Stickers
Late Winter/Spring (March–June)
Lay down a pre-emergent weed killer like Surflan, which contains oryzalin and trifluralin, as a preventative. I have also successfully used a home remedy weed killer: Dilute 1/2 cup each of Epsom salts and vinegar in a gallon of water and spray thoroughly.) Avoid spraying any "good" ground covers, as you want them to flourish and take space away from the Evil One.
- If you have large infestations, sweep with your propane weed burner, staying close to the ground to burn out as much of the roots as you can. Follow your burn with a weed killer that will get to the roots still living underground. Note: If you use a weed burner, you won't need to rake.
- At the first sign of their little green bodies, spray with weed killer. Tip: Spray and then cover with a sun-blocking tarp for about a week. I start this process close to my house and move outward. Peek under the tarp, and when the plants have turned yellow/brown, remove the tarp and move on to the next step. (Note: You can spray these at any time of the year, but beginning the following year, start on schedule to fully get them out of your yard.)
- Remove the goat's head plants, including the roots, with your upright weeder. If you are limber enough and don't have many plants to remove, you can pull them out by hand, but make sure you wear protective gloves. Grasp the entire plant as close to the ground as possible and slowly pull sideways to get the entire root system out. Pulling straight up usually snaps the plant off, leaving the roots still underground.
- Rake the area, removing all goat's head debris, and put it into the trash. Finally, sweep the area you cleared to pick up any thorns. Remember to always put goat's head weeds and thorns in your trash or burn them. They reseed like crazy, if you don't.
- If you have not used chemicals, plant wildflowers and cultivate any other ground covers you can to choke the goat's head plants out.
- Sit back and have a cool one!
If you live in an area with cold winters, the first freeze will kill goat's head weed. But as stated earlier, the plant reseeds aggressively, so be sure to clear your property of any thorns, stems, leaves, and roots. Dispose of these in the trash or by burning.
How to Kill Goat's Head Weed Naturally
Dilute 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and 1/2 cup vinegar in a gallon of water. Spray thoroughly.
How to Safely Use a Propane Vapor Torch
Moist fall and winter weather is the perfect time to attack large patches of goat's head weeds by burning. I have had so many readers rave about using the Red Dragon VT 2-23 C Propane Vapor Torch in their yards. It makes chemicals unnecessary and is easier than the physical work involved with pulling and raking methods.
- Pros: The burner destroys both plant and its seeds immediately.
- Cons: It won't always kill the roots so they might come back again.
So, for those of you with large areas to clear who and don't mind burning areas down to the soil, this is a very good option. I would recommend following with a weed root killer that I have listed in this article.
- First, you must check with your local fire department or city for regulations on its use. Some will require a burn permit, and some do not allow them at all.
- Always have a watering hose ready.
- Pre-water the boundary areas to prevent the burning from getting away from you.
- Never burn in windy conditions!
Follow these precautions and you should be fine.
Chemicals That Kill Goat's Head Weed and How to Use Them
Chemicals are harsh but necessary. In your battle with goat's head weed, you must have chemicals in your arsenal. I know chemicals are not always friendly to the environment, but used properly and chosen carefully, they are very helpful weapons in fighting this scourge. They won't do it all, but combined with the other methods, chemicals will reduce the weeds.
These are the chemicals I have found to be effective when used as directed and in conjunction with the other tactics.
- Oryzalin and Trifluralin (Surflan) Pre-emergents to be applied in late winter/early spring.
- Glyphosate (Roundup)and Dicamba Post-emergents to be applied to growing plants. * Note: I no longer use Roundup for health reasons.
Safety tips: Make sure your pets do not walk on these chemicals when still wet. I cover the areas I have sprayed with a cheap tarp until they are dry. This helps the product be more effective. It deprives the plants of sun, allows the chemical to penetrate fully, and protects my cats from coming into contact with the chemical.
Will it kill every plant you spray? No, nothing does, but it will kill a lot of them. After they are dead, rake the plants and sweep up any thorn heads.
- Caution! Read all labels as some of these can kill other plants you do not want to be harmed!
Stepped on a Goat's Head Thorn?
- Scream. It does help.
- Do not just grab under your foot to yank it out.
- Carefully put a finger to each side of it and pull it straight out.
- Limp to your medicine cabinet/first aid kit and douse the wound in antiseptic, such as hydrogen peroxide or medicinal alcohol.
- Apply a layer of antibiotic cream and cover with a sterile bandage.
- Check it periodically and watch for any sign of infection.
Keep Thorns Out of Your House
For those of you who walk on areas of your property that have or have had these weeds, be sure to thoroughly wipe your shoes off on a rough surface or mat before entering your home. If you don't, you will carry the burrs inside and they will come off on your carpet and you run the risk of stepping on them in bare feet.
The thorns can easily penetrate soft-soled shoes and slippers (not to mention tires, in some cases) so it's important to take care to scour your carpeting and floors for them. Animals can bring them in as well. Sometimes I think they make their way in my house on their own!
If you have small children, make sure they always wear shoes in the house, to protect their little feet.
Plants That Choke Out Goat's Head Weed
For those of you who live in the southwestern U.S., Desert Mallow is a great natural wildflower to promote in your yard. These perennial desert plants flower all summer long. The best part is that if allowed to grow and propagate, these beauties will help choke out goat's head weed. They require nothing: no watering and no fertilizer. Just let them flourish and you will have wonderful orange flowers that last and last. They are easily propagated by cuttings and they reseed each year, naturally multiplying.
I took this picture in mid-May.
Do Goats Eat Goat's Head Weed?
Some goat farmers say that their goats will eat burrs and other thorny plants. In some cases the animals eat everything but the thorns. If you try using goats to eradicate goat's head weed, make sure to rake up and dispose of all plant debris the goats leave behind. These plants can reseed from thorns on the ground.
Weevils That Eat Goat's Head (Puncture Vine)
There are also commercially available weevils that kill goat's head. The weevils are called Microlarinus lareynii and Microlarinus lypriformis.
Together they are known as puncture vine weevils. Microlarinus lareynii works by eating away the side of a green goat's head burr. Then it lays its eggs inside the cavity and seals it up. As adults, these weevils do eat goat's heads, but the real damage is when the female uses the burr as an incubator for her eggs.
Microlarinus lypriformis lays its eggs in goat's head stems. Once hatched, the larvae feed on the plant.
Both weevils have been used in the U.S. to control goat's head weeds since the early 1960s. Interestingly, both the weevil and the goat's head plant are native to Europe, so one can only assume that goat's head isn't as big a problem in its original habitat!
At this time, I cannot say how effective weevils are, but I suggest you look into it. I do not believe it would work in my area as I am in a high wind location. The weevils would be blown away from my yard, helping out my neighbors downwind perhaps, but leaving me open to a rear attack again. I cannot say more than to suggest that you research them. Check with the agriculture department in your county to see if they are legal to use!
Other Names for Goat's Head Weed
These invasive weeds go by many names:
- Tribulus terrestris
- puncture vine
- caltrop or small caltrops
- devil's eyelashes
How Goat's Head Spreads So Quickly
Rapidly, it begins to spread, sending out tentacles. Then it produces little yellow or purple flowers. The roots grow deep very quickly and spread underground. From those roots more evil plants grow, reproducing at an alarming rate.
After they produce their little flowers, the thorns begin to grow, nestled under the leaves and vines, all but invisible until the unwary come near. Moisture will cause it to either hug the ground (less moisture) or grow more upright, with more spreading vines (more moisture).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I pulled every single one of these Goat Head Weeds out of my yard as soon as it showed one flower. None of them went to seed. This year I have just about as many, and am following the same program. I thought they were annuals, but I suppose the seeds stay fertile for several years. How many years does it take?
If you follow up the pulling of the weeds with something that will really penetrate the soil, and get up the loose old seeds you should have less and less each year. However, if the land around you have lots of them, they will make their way into your area again via wind, animals, etc.Helpful 63
I have a round pen for training my horses with WASHED SAND. How do I get the actual stickers out, do I burn it?
I would do that, but you would have to rake to expose those underneath the top layer of sand, and depending on how big the pen is you could sift as many out as you can.Helpful 32
Do only the fresh green "goat heads" germinate?
I believe so!Helpful 11
Is there a male and female goat head weed? One with stickers and one without?
I have only seen those with the stickers.Helpful 7
© 2013 L Olson