How to Plant Thistles


You might think that thistles are nothing but a thorny weed; but some varieties have desirable flowers, while others, such as the artichoke, provide us with healthy food. Other types of thistles, such as the milk thistle, are cultivated for their medicinal properties. The aster plant family contains many types of plants we know as thistles. Thistles can add interest and beauty to your garden and they are easy to grow because many of them are native to different regions of the country.

Step 1

Research different types of thistles at your library or online to determine which variety is best for your part of the country. Avoid thistles that are classified as invasive, such as the Scotch thistle and star thistle, because you don't want to help a problem plant take over more territory. Milk thistle might be a good choice because you can harvest the seeds for medicinal purposes. The globe thistles are an ornamental plant in the Echinops genus, which contains over 100 species. If you want to grow an artichoke, purchase a bedding plant at your nursery.

Step 2

Clear your planting area of all weeds by pulling or digging them from the ground. Add them to your compost pile if they do not contain seeds.

Step 3

Dig in one 2-gallon bucket full of sand for every 4 square feet of planting area to assure that your thistles have the conditions they need to grow well.

Step 4

Scatter seeds in your sunny planting area in fall or winter, and then cover them with a small amount of soil. If rain does not keep the area moist, supplement with hand watering.

Step 5

Thin your plants to 10 or 12 inches apart when they are 3 or 4 inches tall.

Step 6

Cut flower spikes to the ground after they finish blooming. If you liked the variety of thistle you grew, wait for the flower heads to form seeds and then collect them for planting next year.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always wear gloves when you work around thistle plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Trowel, weeding tool or shovel
  • Bucket, 2 gallon
  • Thistle seeds
  • Sunny location
  • Sandy soil


  • A Modern Herbal
  • Wild Mandala

Who Can Help

  • NWCB: Scotch thistle
  • NIH: Milk thistle
  • Oregon State: Veitch's blue
Keywords: thistles planting, invasive species, globe artichoke

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.