Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

How to Kill Thistles

We have been experimenting with ways to kill thistles that avoid using herbicides. We have found that the 9% vinegar, available at HEB, kills them--but be sure to pour it on them BEFORE they bolt.
Kerr County has extremely severe infestations of this invasive species this year, since the drought and deer cleared the land of ground cover.  A thistle seed can last for seven years, waiting for just the right conditions for germination--so even if a person clears their land of thistles one year, he will still have six more years of thistles--and that is only if he does not have ANY further contamination.  The musk thistle problem is not only affecting residential lawns and commercial landscapes such as golf courses, cemeteries, and gardens, but the thistles are practically shutting down agriculture and ranching. Fields must be plowed, disced, and planted before thistles bloom, and even then the seeds thrive on the disturbed ground--farmers and ranchers are giving up, since the only thing a thistle-infested field is good for is development and urban sprawl. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to keep your property musk-thistle-free.
In efforts to eradicate the thistles, entire ranches and farms are being sprayed with lethal doses of herbicides such as Round-Up and various forms of 2-4-D, which have a devastating effect upon the native wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and bees. Last summer I watched my neighbor spray his 100 acre range with 2-4-D--AFTER the thistles had already bloomed, and the bright pink flowers were covered with bees and butterflies.
The herbicides are entering stream and run-off watercourses and killing frogs and other riparian life--before making their way into the rivers and the waters people drink. Most municipal and governmental water authorities do not even test for herbicide contamination (neither the Upper Guadalupe River Authority nor the Headwaters Groundwater Conservation District in Kerr County test for herbicides.) 
This time of year Home Depot will sell millions of dollars worth of Round Up--and this potent herbicide is very ineffective in killing musk thistles. Usually two or more sprayings are required, Round Up will kill any small animal that comes in contact with it--such as lizards, snakes, birds, and frogs--and Round Up is also expensive.  Money spent on Round Up to control thistles is almost certainly thrown away.
Our local HEB will sell the 9% vinegar by the case. For my 100 acres, I just ordered 20 cases--about 2% of what I will eventually need-and I have been fighting thistles ever since I moved here, in 2003--NINE years ago. Government, agriculture, industry, environmental organizations, native plant gardeners, and the private sector need to team up NOW to make the public more aware of the threat that musk thistles pose to our quality of life in the Texas Hill Country.
For more information on Musk Thistles, click here.

Mary J. Matthews 


A Sunday morning drive along Center Point’s River Road ain’t what it used to be.

The drive from east to west still begins beneath the stunningly beautiful canopy of old pecans, oaks, elm and cypress. The undergrowth opens up in a few places to give the driver a few peeks at the Guadalupe River—just teasers leaving you wishing for more. Trouble is, the bigger view opening up on the other side of the road is a quarry neighbor’s nightmare. Thistles, thistles, thistles. Everywhere, musk thistles.

And what have our neighbors, the gravel quarries, done to stop the explosive proliferation of these awful weeds?

Martin Marietta Aggregates has made no attempt to control thistle growth on their property that adjoins River Road and Sutherland Lane. White seeds are drifting in the wind to all parts of the county. And beyond.

Drymala Quarry seems to be mounting a late poisoning of their thistle forest on Sutherland Road. Probably a high-powered chemical since Roundup® won’t kill thistles that are that tall. This quarry neighbor guesses they have a license to purchase those potent, federally regulated chemicals in large quantities, since Drymala obviously used a lot of whatever noxious chemical it is.

Do the quarries’ neighbors have a right to know what chemical compound Drymala has sprayed?

The runoff from whatever they are, those herbicides or herbicide, seeps directly into the river and is undoubtedly detrimental to the downstream neighbors as well as to fish and to river plants.

Could there have been some drift onto neighbor’s property or onto the roadway as they sprayed…?

Let us return to our tour.

Take a turn back onto River Road and you see the backside of Drymala’s quarry.

Oh, no!

While county crews have mowed their side of the fence, the right-of-way, the quarry’s neglect presents a stark contrast.

Musk thistles run amuck on this part of Drymala land.

A monumental travesty will undoubtedly unfold next spring. These thistle seeds are already drifting across River Road. They drift, spreading hundreds of thousands of seeds, each one eager to bloom into a tall stalk of sharp thorns. Thorns that injure livestock and wildlife, while ruining the land, be it recreational, agricultural, or residential.

I see the wedge of ground that has been scrapped and gouged into an ATV-motocross facility. All the vegetation has been removed from the surface, leaving bare dirt. Prime river bottom dirt.

Can a thistle seed ask for more?

I know there is relief ahead. I am almost to TEXAS MONTHLY Magazine’s #3 swimming hole in Texas, the Brinks-Reese-Guadalupe crossing. But there’s no relief for me. This popular recreational spot, a haven for man since the days of the Native Americans, has not been spared. Musk-thistle seeds have made their way to the riverbank.

Thankfully, those weeds have not germinated in huge numbers. Not yet. Were they seeded from the unattended quarry berms a few feet above the river?

A return to Highway 27 is encouraging. Martin Marietta has removed thistles along this heavily traveled roadway. Well, maybe not so encouraging. Neighbors wonder why this international corporation controls the musk thistle at their high profile front fence that runs alongside the highway, but ignores the infestation beyond the view of Highway 27 motorists.

Then there is Wheatcraft, situated on the river bank.

Neighbors suspected the berms along Highway 27 were strategically located to hide the dismal reality inside the pits. These berms have now become a seedbed for the musk thistle. Wheatcraft Materials Incorporated has also made a sloppy attempt at control with herbicides.

Do neighbors have a right to expect more appropriate thistle control, given the high risk of chemicals soaking into the soil, the river’s alluvial system and the main river stream?

Quarry neighbors also suffer from unattended quarry thistles, and nearby farmers and ranchers lose the productivity of their land, since these weeds aren’t suitable as agricultural feed and they are sharp and tall, poising injury to livestock and wildlife.

Removal is impossible with the annual seeding from the quarries as well as the seed bank lying dormant from previous years. Any method of control is labor intensive, time consuming, expensive and frustrating. Neighbors can attempt to pop a few out of the ground but this is impossible when faced with a blooming bumper crop. Do we spray and kill everything in site? Do we mow and destroy the wildflower seed bank forever? Unfortunately, the musk thistle blooms and seeds in sync with our native wildflowers.

The quarries are not operating on this Sunday but thistle seeds are still blowing in the wind, soon to land and germinate.

Wouldn’t it all be better, if gravel quarry owners would simply make concerted efforts to control thistles on their property, before they morph from seeds to weeds?

~Frances Lovett


Thistle Control

It’s not often that a kindred spirit comes along, but one did in TV and radio personality Bruce Deuley, when he and his friend and kin, Chuck Meadors, stopped in on May 18 to visit KCC member Mary Matthews.
Mary fights a continuing, uphill battle to preserve her historic 1940s ranch’s original charm.  Sitting high on a rise between two floodplains that feed into the Guadalupe River, the property is under constant attack from the ravages of time, not to mention water runoff from the airport, from pollution caused by area quarries, and from the kudzu of the 21
st Century, MUSK THISTLE.

The invasive musk thistle, in Mary’s estimation, serves no purpose beyond problems.  (The Vikings could attest to that, when they tried, barefooted, to invade Scotland in the Middle Ages.  Ouch!)  Livestock and wildlife can’t eat it.  It ruins farm and range lands, and quickly.  Once they have made their purple flowers, those accursed plants spread hundreds of thousands of seeds, far and wide.  There seemed to be no answer beyond strict attention to the tedium of a large job, removing thistle at just the right moment.  Yet Bruce Deuley, well-known expert and author in organic gardening and living, pointed out that goats can actually eat those thorny stalks.  “It’s free food for goats.  I know of a man who rented out his goats for that purpose.”
Oh, those goats.
Would it be giving one’s age away, to mention how housewives used to berate those bearded nuisances as the scourge of clotheslines?
Truly, goats will eat anything!
But if you’re not in the market to buy or rent a few goats, you can still stymie the spread of thistle seeds.  Carefully cut the flower from the stalk—be sure to wear protective gloves and clothes—and then dispose of the flower in an airtight container.
Mary and Deuley further chatted on other conventional ways to get rid of thistle. 
Herbicides are NOT the answer.  Remedy®, atrazin, and picloram are very damaging to the environment.  While they do kill thistles, they also kill needed and wanted greenery, and they seep into water supplies, such as the Guadalupe River, Kerr County’s important source of drinking water.
According to Deuley, there’s a fellow over in Georgia who is an expert on thistle control, and Steven Bissonet markets a non-selective MSDS, EcoSmart.  Visit Bissonet’s
And, of course, there’s the vinegar cure for thistles.  Add 1T to ½ ounce of molasses to vinegar, then spray the plant.  One of our KCCers, Jessie P, swears by pouring molasses-laden vinegar down the center of the thistle stalk.  Deuley says both methods work.
Thistles weren’t the only topics of conversation.  KCC learned that Bruce Deuley, also a herpetologist, hails from Valdosta, Georgia, but he went West early on, to study a rare reptile at Canyon Lake.  While he spent years in this area and has kinfolk hereabouts, he evidently left the area for a while, recently returning.  This man can talk Rolls Royces to rattlesnakes.  He is truly a kindred spirit with our Mary Matthews
Be sure to catch Bruce Deuley’s programs.  He’s on Kerrville’s HCTV, Saturday mornings from 9 to 10.  Follows is his first Saturday radio broadcast, on KGNB, 1420, from 10 to noon.  His final Saturday program is on San Antonio’s KTSA (550 on your dial).  This last show of the day runs from 5 to 7 in the afternoon.
Martha Hix