Getting Rid of Goat Head Weeds, Seeds, and Stickers

Updated on April 14, 2016

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
  • Chemical weed killer containing Oryzalin
  • Chemical weed pre-emergent containing Glyphosate
  • Good upright weeder/extractor
  • Tarps to lay down after you spray
  • Weed collection bin
  • Rake
  • Optional: Mulch to lay over treated and weeded area.

A Year-Round Guide to Removing Goat Head Weed

Early Winter
Early Spring
Fall and Winter
Lay down pre-emergent like Surflan as a preventative. 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.
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. You'll be wasting your money. 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.

Safety tips:

  • 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.

Using Chemicals

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!

It looks pretty here, but this plant will drive you insane if it gets established in your hard.
It looks pretty here, but this plant will drive you insane if it gets established in your hard. | Source

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.

Dried Goat Head thorns embedded in a foot.
Dried Goat Head thorns embedded in a foot. | Source

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!

Desert Mallow is a great wildflower that will grow and propagate in your yard, especially if you live in the Southwest.
Desert Mallow is a great wildflower that will grow and propagate in your yard, especially if you live in the Southwest.

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!

Are you a Goat Head warrior?

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    • profile image

      Michael Peterson 5 weeks ago

      Memories of goat heads from a childhood in Albuquerque come rushing back and the photo of the foot could have been mine. Memories like this are one of the reasons that I've invented an organic weed killer that is very effective against goat heads - if you get a chance, please take a look and let me know what you think.

    • profile image

      Dan 3 months ago

      I moved onto a rural property in Nevada three years ago and have been fighting goat heads ever since! They are so persistent and painful to step on. When I see my dog come limping to me with one paw in the air I know right away that he stepped on one. I have an acre of land and to control them is a huge job that I am not winning. I attack them as soon as I see their flowers, burn them with a torch, etc. but they were here so long before me that the seeds are everywhere and seem impossible to ever get rid of. To use any kind of chemicals would require a major amount of money! Any suggestions?

    • profile image 3 months ago

      My contractors mowed my lawn too low and far to many times. The hot dry weather scorched my local lawn grass and the contractor walked the cathead/goathead weeds all through my property from his boots. The seeds were pushed into my bare earth by poor hygiene management by the contractor.

    • profile image

      Fiona 5 months ago

      Glyphosate is more evil than goatheads.

    • profile image

      Lelah Kaufman 5 months ago

      They are everywhere, invading my 2 acres and my home! The dog cannot run free because she is attacked by these vicious weeds! Eeeek!

    • profile image

      Tom walton 5 months ago

      Ive been waring with these evil little monsters for a decade now. If they are really bad you need to start with burner. If you are fighting the long fight i highly recomend a claw hammer and a bucket. Use claw to carefully grab plant at center root and lift. You can grab whole plant and all the evil spawn at same time and deposite in bucket. Takes a few years if you started with bad patch but with persistance you will win. Also a healthy mix of roundup and a little dish soap will kill them if you hit them early. Happy hunting!

    • profile image

      Truman Makabe 5 months ago

      I have a few large Goathead plants that have no thorns. The reason? We have Desert Iguana lizards that eat the flowers, preventing thorns from forming. I purposely let a few plants grow to observe the lizards, and to see how effective they are. I can find no thorns at all, and the largest plant is over four feet across. The plant is very bushy because the lizards also eat some of the branch tips, effectively "pinching back" the plant to encourage new growth. The lizards will start hibernating soon, though, so the plants will be able to grow thorns. I will pull them up then. I pulled about 50-60 other goathead plants from my yard and saw no thorns at all.

    • profile image

      Lisa 5 months ago

      Basically saying they can't be controlled

    • profile image

      Dena 7 months ago

      I've found a weed killer that works like a charm on this evil pernicious plant. It's called Burn Out and its safe around my animals after application. It also seems to last a while.

    • profile image

      Jean Cournoyer 10 months ago

      I have a bad case of Gateshead at my beach place here in WA I have not tried chemicals yet but did try burning a spot. Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      G. Cloudwalker 10 months ago

      The best way I got rid of the NASTY BUGGERS is put on your trusty work boots, Take a stroll around the yard and using the toe of the boot give them a good nudge and out they come root & all some you have to bend and get the root, I did this for several weeks and haven't had any for 15 yrs.

      It's good exercise and you discover other things happening in the yard too.

    • profile image

      Ann 11 months ago

      Before the stickers form, the young goat head leaves are quite edible. So eat free and get rid of these pesky plants at the same time!

    • profile image

      Carol Herman 11 months ago

      Thank you for the suggestions. By far the best article I have seen to aid in our war against this horrid plant.

    • profile image

      Bud Glass 13 months ago

      Great and well-written article. Have you ever had any experience with weaviles? I've heard that they kill off the new buds when they come out. They are Goat Heads here in Colorado and they suck.

    • profile image

      Lindarae. Tyler 14 months ago

      Thank you

    • profile image

      oneil vigue 15 months ago

      sand spurs or goathead weeds will also get a bicycle tire flat,if you ride your bicycle in the grass with sand spurs,you will get a flat tire,we live in north florida and i tell my kids and show them how the sand spurs will stick to the rubber tire and go through into the inner tube.

    • profile image

      middle of az 18 months ago

      The seeds can survive several years in the ground before they sprout. Don't let them grow big enough to produce seeds. I wander around my yard with a hoe and when I see that little yellow flower I attack. I have a lot less then before. The problem is the neighbors don't do anything about them. Each big rain just wash more seeds into my yard.

    • profile image

      merrill Johson 18 months ago

      A lot of words. Eliminate annual one needs to dig it, burn it, poison it and don't let it go to seed. Seeds lay in the ground viable for many years, and new seed are brought in on the feet and shoes of any thing that walks through, therefore it will take a long time. So often some plants survive to reseed the following year.

    • profile image

      Lauren 18 months ago

      I'm not sure about the chickens and goats--the dog next door doesn't seem to care that she's walking on the things and has them all stuck in her fur. She even sits on them, without a concern. I'm fighting to keep them out of my yard, pulling everything that comes through the fence.

    • profile image

      anymous 19 months ago

      not quite

    • profile image

      Mona 19 months ago

      Stepping on a Goathead is just like stepping on a thumb tack!

    • profile image

      sandy miller 20 months ago

      Ready to buy beautiful house on 5 acres..full of goathead and we want animals...afraid we would t be able to control them and what it will do to chickens and goats. Not sure if good to buy this beautiful home. I also have a dog

    • profile image

      Shannon 21 months ago

      I am working on a product that will help eradicate goat-head stickers as well as other varieties of Sticker-bur seeds. checkout STICKERSTOPPER on youtube. A simple device to pickup the sticker-bur seeds. Let me know what you think in the comments section. Thanks.

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 2 years ago from Las Vegas

      I just pulled one out of my foot. God I hate them!!!

    • profile image

      Rubeida Shaik 2 years ago

      Hi there. Wow! And here I thought we only get it in South Africa, Cape Town. Interesting read. My front yard has been left bare due to home improvements some time now. However we just scoop up the weeds every time we see them surfacing. The yard is all clean until i walk with my flip flops and before i enter my home I look under my soles and it's fully loaded with these devil thorns. There's no other way but to remove it individually off my flip flops cussing as I do

    • Jennifer Mugrage profile image

      Jennifer Mugrage 2 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

      Thanks for this post. It made me laugh. Happily, I will not have to follow any of the advice now, since we live in a non-goat-head area ... but I remember those days. Ouch. Stepping on one really is like stepping on a tack.

    • profile image

      jhowerton 2 years ago

      we have those little devil's in northern California . my garden is over run with them 30 ft x 30 ft , it's a lot for one person to deal with. We have ben fighting them for 3 years with very little results. and yes they can have little purple flowers cuse ours do.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 3 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Excellent suggestions!

    • profile image

      LK 3 years ago

      I've found a new tool for grasping them way down low to the ground to pull them out - Lawn Jaws, sold on Amazon.

      I'm in Phoenix and have desert landscaping, so large gravel areas. To find the goathead burrs to eliminate them in the gravel , I walk around the yard in soft flip flops. They will embed themselves in the soles, and I pull them out and repeat.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 3 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @irwinmomm: I will have to check that out! Thanks for the tip!

    • profile image

      irwinmomm 3 years ago

      I hae been doing battle with these things ever since I bought tis place from my parens estate. I did discover while working in New Mexico that Fertiloam puts out a dry pre-emergent call Avert. I had never seen it in Colorado. It cannot be found at the big box stores-- Find a small farmer type feed store that carries Fertiloam products. Its doesn't rid you of the goathead stickers but it keeps them from germinating. Wish I had bought several bags and you can be when I get back thru N M I will stock up--I does work.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 3 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @becky-roberts-520: Goat heads can have either color, yellow or purple.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 3 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @becky-roberts-520: Yes, goat heads can have purple flowers...I have both in my yard.

    • profile image

      becky-roberts-520 3 years ago

      Hello Everyone, Here's my dilemma/ I have a patch of what I thought were goat heads growing in our yard/mixed in with the grass. A 4ft. x10ft. patch. The leaves look identical to goat heads but what we have has purple flowers, not yellow flowers. Do goat heads have more than one color of flower? I am in process of getting rid of them now before they get out of hand. Any help, suggestions would much be appreciated. Thanks so much

    • profile image

      becky-roberts-520 3 years ago

      Hello everyone, Maybe someone could help me. I have what I thought were goat heads growing in our yard. First time. Their massively taking over, about a 4ft. x 10ft patch. Here's the issue I'm having now though. As of today I don't actually know if what we have are goat heads. The leaves look identical to the goat heads but they have purple flowers not yellow flowers. From all the photos that I have seen of goat heads they have yellow flowers, not purple flowers. If someone can help me identity what I have I would very much appreciate it. Thank you

    • profile image

      tonyleather 4 years ago

      Some excellent suggestions here!

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 4 years ago

      I have never heard of the goat head weed. And I think I would like it to stay that way. Best wishes in your battle - may you come out victorious!

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @Gloriousconfusion: You are most fortunate not to have lived in an area with them!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I love gardening, and have written about it on lots of lenses, but I've never heard of goat headweed before

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @lesliesinclair: Well, you can be environmentally friendly by using the propane burner combined with a lot of hard work in pulling them up by the roots, one by one. However, for those like me with thousands of them in my yard, that isn't very realistic if you want to avoid the damage they do.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Yikes! Never had the displeasure of encountering this weed. I'd say it's pretty noxious. From the title I guessed that it was a play on words, and that the solution was going to be an environmentally friendly one --- using goats to chomp them away.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @tvyps: The goat head weed is very sneaky. You may not think you have them in your yard, but beware, if they are close by, they will find a way to your property. Even if a thorn falls off your pet, it can grow where it falls.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Funny, you commented on my lens that had a goat tree in it and now, I am commenting on your goat head lens, ha! My pets bring these things in the house, not sure where they are coming from, I don't have them in the yard. They always end up in my bare feet. These are the most painful things; the pain relates to a needle stick and the bottom of the foot is one of the most sensitive areas of the body.

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago

      Man - I'm glad we don't have those! I thought some of our weeds were bad...ouch!

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I haven't heard of this weed before, it is a very self-protected species with those spears on it. Where I live we have many hard to maintain weeds with thorns and the grow prolifically and cannot be controlled since the climate here is always warm and moist.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 4 years ago from Virginia

      Me thinks this blood letting pest has found safe haven here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is sad to see what this pest can do. A great big COUNTRYLUTHIER thumbs up for these eradication tips. and....may the goat head pest never darken your days again, ever, ever ever!

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I remember these from growing up in Idaho. Used to get them when I was out exploring. What I have now is an equally hideous invader the MORNING GLORY! I think I have finally eliminated it from my yard. The neighbor behind is the same we are united in our hate of it. But now the guy next to us just doesn't care! Fun to hear that we all have our nemesis (es?) (nemesi?)

    • profile image

      ChristyZ 4 years ago

      This lens is hilarious, you're a great writer! Thankfully I'm only at war with an aggressive group of dandelions:)

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @Craftypicks: You got that right!

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      I don't have them on my property growing but we certainly have them in the area and I have stepped on them once too many times!!! OUCH. I understand why they grow thorns to protect themselves but it's just out and out mean shedding them the way they do.

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

      Fortunately here we do not have goat heds. It seems really hard to get rid of them. Very good lens.

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      @lionmom100: Oh, I hate those runner grasses too! However, I have to keep them to choke out the goat head weed! The battle never ends!

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      At first I thought I had not heard of this weed, being here in the Pacific Northwest, but then it dawned on me that I think I came across it when I lived in So Cal. Nasty little things. I had to laugh at the descriptions of your battles with this devil. But you are fighting a good battle, bring on the big guns (chemicals) when you have to. Now if I could only get rid of this nasty runner borne grass that is snaking its way through my flower beds.

    • wleon63 profile image

      wleon63 4 years ago

      I have never heard of 'Goat Head Weeds, although we do have stinging nettles in the UK [would they be classed as such?}. Anyway, great lens and very in-depth too. From the sounds of it, it seems that this weed is an absolute nightmare to try to destroy. And to me, it also seems that it serves no purpose at all in your garden, other than taking up space.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      I have never seen goat head!

    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 4 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      Oh oh oh! I am NEVER going to emigrate if this is what may face me! I think I would be inclined to take a flame thrower to the entire surrounding areas! You do write well though. Your lenses are a joy to read. Funny, informative and written with great style. May your Goat Head be defeated and your soles stay unpunctured!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I wouldn't want to see the goat heads.

      It is amazing that you could find this dreadful weed and emerge victorious. Keep it up.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 4 years ago

      An excellent resource! Goat heads are definitely not things I want anywhere near me... they are rather awful.

    • GardenerDon profile image

      Gardener Don 4 years ago

      How refreshing to see someone suggesting the use or chemical weed sprays. Too often these days it's the opposite.

      You are spot on with the line: "But, used properly, and chosen carefully, it's a very helpful weapon in fighting this scourge"

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      vanderwick 4 years ago

      im searching for goat and landing to your lens, :-)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Never heard them called "goat heads", here in Florida they're known as "sand spurs", and they are what prevent us from "frolicking barefoot through the grass". I love your wit - "the nasty little buggers propagate like randy rabbits," - how descriptive.