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How to Kill Russian Thistle

cactus image by Carol Wingert from

Russian thistle (Salsola tragus) is a broadleaf weed common in the southwest United States. As it grows, Russian thistle resembles a small bush, growing up to 6 feet in width with thin stems that can reach 3 feet in length. Its foliage, upon closer look, has slightly red or purple stripes. In the fall and early winter months, Russian thistle dries and breaks free. Then it spreads its seeds all over the place as it tumbles in the wind, hence its common name: tumbleweed. Fortunately, you can kill much of your Russian thistle to keep it under control in your home and garden.

Grasp the Russian thistle with your hands near the bottom of the stem, and pull up its roots (which is easier when the soil is wet). Discard the plant at a local waste facility or in your trash. Do not compost, or it will return.

Till or hoe the area where your Russian thistle is growing. This method is not as effective as pulling it, but much of the Russian thistle will be buried and therefore killed. This is less labor intensive than pulling it by hand and will help keep the weed under control.

Apply a pre-emergent herbicide, such as one that contains oryzalin, isoxaben, trifluralin or pendimethalin. Apply one of these herbicides, which are usually granular, to the soil before the Russian thistle grow, about two to three weeks prior to when you expect them to grow. If the Russian thistle still grows, or you missed your window of opportunity to apply a pre-emergent herbicide, proceed to the next step.

Spray a post-emergent herbicide, such as one that contains one of the following ingredients: 2,4-D, glyphosate, triclphyr or dicamba. Use one of these herbicides to evenly spray on the Russian thistle in the early growth stage. If possible, apply before the plants reach 4 inches in diameter. If one herbicide stops working, the next time, try another.


Each herbicide is different and must be applied following label instructions. Wear protective clothing, such as rubber gloves and goggles, and apply on a calm day.

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