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How To Remove Russian Thistle

By Tanya Khan ; Updated September 21, 2017

Botanically called Salsola tragus, Russian thistle, also known as tumbleweed was introduced in the United States in the early 1870s. This broadleaf weed is common in southwestern United States, where it grows up to 6 feet wide and 3 feet tall. The foliage comprises of purple or red stripes. In the winter, this invasive weed dries up and releases tiny seeds that spread to different areas in the wind. Several removal methods ensure complete eradication of Russian thistle from your lawn or garden.

Pull the plant out of the ground for small infestations. Wear gloves and grasp the stem close to the ground to pull it out off the soil, along with the roots. Moisten the soil prior to pulling, so it comes out easily. Collect in a plastic bag and discard.

Mow the area to cut the foliage off the Russian thistle plant. Although this method is not effective as pulling the plant out of the soil, it impedes the process of photosynthesis so the plant cannot make food, killing it eventually. Several cuttings are required before the weed dies down.

Rent a rototiller and run it over large areas of Russian thistle infestations. The strong, sharp blades of the rototiller chop up the soil, pulling out the plant along with the roots.

Apply a granular form of a commercially available, pre-emergent herbicide that contains isoxaben, oryzalin, pendimethalin or trifluralin to the soil. Follow label directions to apply the herbicide around the noxious weed before seeds appear. The herbicide prevents the seeds from developing, thus preventing the weed from spreading to other areas.

Spray a post-emergent herbicide to kill growing Russian thistle weed. Select a commercially available herbicide that contains glyphosate, dicamba, 2,4-D or triclphyr. Spray the herbicide to the weed in the seedling stage, or before the plant reaches 4 inches wide.

Douse the Russian thistle plant with boiling water or household white vinegar (that contains 9 per cent or more acetic acid) for an organic method of removal. Although repeat applications will be required before complete removal, this is an environmentally safe method suited for people with children or pets.

Smother the plant. Cover the area with a heavyweight plastic sheet and weigh the edges down with bricks or rocks. The plastic prevents sunlight, air or water from reaching the plant or roots. Remove the plastic after six to eight weeks.


Things You Will Need

  • Gloves
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic bag
  • Lawn mower
  • Rototiller
  • Pre-emergent herbicide
  • Post-emergent herbicide
  • Boiling water
  • White vinegar
  • Heavyweight plastic sheet
  • Bricks


  • Wear long, thick leather gloves when pulling the thistle plant to prevent scratching your hands.

About the Author


Tanya Khan is a freelance author and consultant, having written numerous articles for various online and print sources. She has a Master of Business Administration in marketing but her passion lies in writing.