Thistles & Thoughts

We have a thistle issue in our yard, and have had for quite some time. This weekend, I spent a lot of time and energy working to clear a ridiculously large patch of them from our backyard.

Spending this time digging in the dirt, largely away from the noise of social media and my family; I had the opportunity to form some deep thoughts about thistles. None of said thoughts were earth shattering or even a little bit original, but I found them striking nonetheless.

1. Roots are amazing on countless levels, thistle roots perhaps more so than others. When you start to pull or dig one of these thistles out of the ground, what’s directly underneath is not a given; and getting the entire root is essentially impossible.

There are very few that seemingly resemble a tap root (very possibly the only term I remember from college botany) that goes straight down, and can simply be pulled straight up. But in reality, even with these seemingly straightforward removals, if I really look at the tip of what I extract from the earth, there will be a break. Meaning, i think, that instead of eliminating the weed, I simply mowed it. So, given a little time, sunlight, and rainfall; the thistle will rise again.

Far more frequently, as I dug down trying (ultimately in futility) to get to the very tip of the plant, I found roots that, instead of going straight down, made a sharp turn.

Why would a root pivot in such a manner? I can only imagine it’s to increase its chances for survival. These plants felt more anchored, harder to remove with simple a good strong tug.

And, there were lots of these.

Before looking below the soil, I assumed these to be completely separate entities. Upon close examination, I found them to be birds of a feather, so to speak. Holding onto one another in a symbiotic relationship, each helping to anchor the other making it harder for either to be removed.

After lots of digging, both literally in the dirt and figuratively on the internet, I learned these plants deveolp an extensive horizontal root system that works relentlessly and effectively to allow these plants not only to thrive, but to overtake large expanses of space.

2. Removing these things is a daunting task. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Today is the day I shall make these thistles my bitch. I am going to go out there and show these MFers who is the BOSS.” Only to be quickly humbled by the already described roots and profanity inducing prickles that hurt like hell when my bare skin inadvertently encounters them. Also worth noting, I’ve yet to find a glove those prickles cannot breach. They. Are. Bastards.

3. There is a time for Roundup. Or put differently, to simply burn the shit to the ground and start over. Yes, Roundup is a drastic measure, one I try to avoid; but if the thistles have shown repeatedly they are not going to respond to lesser measures, I must be open to drastic steps.

4. There is no easy button to get rid of the thistles. Not even Roundup is the end all, be all solution. Yes, it will temporarily improve the situation, but the thistles require constant vigilance, even after seemingly having been contained. I say this with confidence, because we DID resort to roundup a few years ago. But then we quit paying attention, which led to my weekend of attempting to reclaim the corner of my yard.

5. While I think dealing with these thistles is a grade A prime pain in the ass, I’m fortunate in a handful of ways. I have the option of ignoring them. I have access to the necessary tools- shovel, spade, gloves (FAR better than nothing even if not 100% effective), and weed killer to best deal with them.

I can opt for a retired pair of shoes to tromp around in the dirt, and when I’m done, there will be time to sit on the porch and enjoy a beer while reveling in the glory of my labors.

6. Removing thistles can be painful and disruptive. As previously stated, brushing up against these things smarts. And, while digging yesterday, I inadvertently cut the line of our below ground electric dog fence. So, until I can get the repair person out here, I have to be more vigilant about making sure the pups stay in the yard. And I don’t even want to think about what the repair is going to cost. Ohhhh bother.

BUT, if I don’t remove them, if I don’t pay attention, they thrive. And they don’t only thrive on my property. Apparently they haven’t read the property deed and can’t see the fence, because they don’t hesitate to spill into my neighbors’ yards.

They thrive on my ignorance, neglect, and refusal to take the time to acknowledge and deal with them. And then their effect spreads. I ignore them at the peril of myself, which I can deal with. But ignoring them at the peril of others is inexcusable.

Is it possible I’m talking about something beyond thistles? Is it possible that when I speak of my neighbors I’m referring to more than those who live adjacent to me?

Yes, indeed.

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