Getting Rid of Goat Head Weeds, Seeds, and Stickers
If you live in an area with goat head weeds, sometimes called puncture vines or sand burrs, you're part of a growing list of people who ask: How do I get rid of them?
They are like flypaper stuck to your hands, and killing them seems impossible! My friends, you can control and kill goat head weed and keep it from taking over your yard, but it takes patience, perseverance, and some good tools.
Rapidly it begins to spread, sending out tentacles and then it will start producing little yellow or purple flowers. The roots grow deep very quickly and also spread underground, and 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 it. And then, it strikes! Moisture will cause it to either hug the ground (less moisture) or grow more upright, with more spreading vines (more moisture).
At the end of the season, or when the plants mature, the Goat Head thorns begin to fall off, and those are the next seasons army that you have to kill. If you have a patch that you are trying to eradicate, use a small broom to sweep them up so you can dispose of them in the trash!
If you see them sprouting, begin your treatment now. Once the night temperatures rise, they will propagate very quickly and your control efforts will be that much more difficult.
What You'll Need
- Propane weed-burning torch (for large infestations)
- Protective gloves
- Epsom Salts and White Vinegar (dilute 1/2 cup each per gallon of water)
- Chemical weed killer containing Oryzalin (FOLLOW SAFETY PRECAUTIONS)
- Chemical weed pre-emergent containing Glyphosate (UPDATE: THIS IS THE MAIN INGREDIENT IN ROUNDUP. I NO LONGER RECOMMEND THIS CHEMICAL, BUT IF YOU DO USE IT, BE CAREFUL, DO NOT EXPOSE YOUR SKIN OR BREATH IN THE VAPOR. WASH OR DISGARD CLOTHING AND SHOWER IMMEDIATELY AFTER USE.
- Good upright weeder/extractor
- Tarps to lay down after you spray
- Weed collection bin
- Optional: Mulch to lay over treated and weeded area.
A Year-Round Guide to Removing Goat Head Weed
Fall and Winter
Lay down pre-emergent like Surflan as a preventative, or spray Epsom Salts/vinegar solution. Avoid plants you want to keep.
At first sign of Goat Head, spray with weed killer with pre-emergent chemical Surflan.
Use propane vapor torch to remove weeds. Be sure to have watering hose ready and do not work on a windy day.
For large infestations, sweep with weed burner, staying close to the ground. Try to burn roots and follow with weed killer or epsom salts/vinegar solution.
Place tarp over infested areas to block sun. When plants are yellow/brown, remove tarp.
Remove plants and roots with upright weeder.
Rake area and place weeds in bin. Sweep to remove thorns.
Plant wildflowers or other ground cover
- In the early winter or spring, lay down a pre-emergent like Surflan as a preventative. Don't use anything else that does not contain this ingredient. (UPDATE: I have successfully used a home remedy weed killer: Dilute 1/2 cup each of Epsom salts and Vineger per 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 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.
- At the first sign of their little green bodies, spray with weed killer. Tip: Spray blocks of infested and cover with a sun blocking tarp for about a week. I start closest 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 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 have protective gloves on. Also, 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 head debris, and put it into the trash. Finally, sweep the area you cleared to pick up any goat head thorns. Remember to always put goat head weeds and thorns in your trash or burn them. They reseed like crazy, if you don't. *Note: If you are using a weed burner, you won't need to rake.
- If you have not used chemicals, plant wildflowers and cultivate any ground covers you can to choke the Goat Head plants out.
- Sit back, and have a cool one!
Using a Vapor Torch
With the moist fall and winter season upon us, now is the perfect time for those of you with large patches of goat head weeds to take the direct approach to getting rid of existing goat head plants.
I have had so many readers rave about using the Red Dragon VT 2-23 C Propane Vapor Torch in their yards to kill the Goat Head weeds. It saves using chemicals and the all the physical work involved in the traditional (but still good) 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.
- 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 those precautions and you should be fine.
They're harsh, but necessary. In your battle with Goat Head weed, you must have chemicals ready to be deployed in your arsenal. I know it seems harsh and perhaps 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 battle tactics I am giving you, they will thin their ranks and help you win the war.
These are the chemicals I have found to be effective when used as directed and in conjunction with the other tactics. Make sure your pets are not walking on them when still wet. I cover the areas I have sprayed with a cheap tarp until dry and this helps the product be more effective. It deprives them of sun, allows the chemical to penetrate fully, and protects my cats from coming into contact with the chemical.
Will it kill every one you spray? No, nothing does, but it will kill a lot of them. After they are dead, rake the plants and then sweep up any thorn heads.
- Oryzalin and trifluralin Pre-emergents to be applied in late winter/early spring
- Glyphosate and dicamba Post-emergents to growing plants.
Caution! Read all labels as some of these can kill other plants you do not want to be harmed!
My Battle Against the Goat Head Weed
I moved to beautiful Northern Arizona about 22 years ago, and loved it immediately.
Having spent years in the southern desert, the move was a welcome relief from the extreme heat and vigalence against harmful natural creatures there.
Little did I know that I was just a short time away from a struggle against the worst enemy nature could throw against humanity! The Goat Head weed. Oh, it goes by many names; the puncture vine, the sand burr, and of course it's botanical name, Tribulus terrestris. To me, it is Thy Enemy and I am at war with it!
When I moved into this house with its large, fenced yard, I thought I would be in bliss, able to create gardens full of happy plants. As a retired professional plant grower, I couldn't wait to create my own picturesque gardenscape. Then, I had my first encounter with a goat head plant.
I reached down to pull a weed from an area I was clearing, and felt what I was afraid was a dangerous sting by a bug unknown. Instead I saw a roundish, odd hard thing stuck in my skin. I went to pull it out, and was immediately impailed 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!
I tried spraying the plants with my regular weed killer but that didn't work. 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, and it deposited millions of goat head seeds on the land around my house.
The next spring as these plants all began emerging from germination I knew I had to refine my tactics, hone my skills and now, after several more seasons of battle, I am a Goat Head Warrior.
Stepped on a Goat 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 anticeptic, such as hydogen peroxide or medicinal achohol.
- Apply a layer of antibiotic cream and cover with a sterile bandage.
- Check it periodically and watch for any sign of infection.
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 so you get all the burrs off your shoes. If you don't, you will carry them 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 really 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!
For those of you who live in the Southwest USA, the Desert Mallow is a great natural wildflower to promote in your yard. These perennial desert plants flower all summer long, and if you allow them to grow and propagate, they will help choke out the Goat Head Weed. They require nothing, no watering, no fertilizer, just let them flourish and you will have wonderful orange flowers that last and last. They are easily propagated by taking cuttings, if you want to try that, and they reseed each year, naturally multiplying.
I took this picture in my yard, and it's mid May, so you can see they are already flourishing with color.
Unleash the Weevils!
I have read that there is a commercially available weevil available that kills the Goat Head. At this time, I cannot say how effective it is, 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, and the weevils would be blown away from my yard, helping out my neighbors down wind perhaps, but leaving me open to a rear attack again.
The name of the weevil (which is really a small beetle) is microlarinus lareynii or M. lypriformis.
I cannot say more than to suggest that you research them. Check with the agriculture department in your county to see if it's legal to use!
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?Helpful 7
- Helpful 3