Learn how to get rid of goat head weeds and prevent them from coming back every year. Goat head weed can be a nightmare, but it's possible to get rid of this invasive weed. The best approach involves a multi-pronged attack.
How to Get Rid of Goat Head Weeds [5 Essential Steps]
To kill goat head weeds, you need a multi-step approach:
- First, attack any young goat head plants with weed killer.
- Next, use a flame weeder to destroy any mature plants with seeds that turn into future weeds.
- Then, remove the roots and remains of goat head weeds.
- Finally, prevent goat head’s return by mulching your garden and spreading pre-emergent weed controls in your lawn.
This may seem like a strong response to a simple weed, but anyone who’s had a long battle with goat heads knows that the plants are extremely hard to kill. You can battle all summer, only to see them return next year to drop burrs that puncture feet, bike tires, and the paws of your pets. The best solution is to hit the goat head hard to drive it out of your yard.
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Steps on How to Kill Goat Heads
So, you stepped on your first goat head and suffered the pain of the sharp burr? One run-in alone would be enough to make you kill all the goat head weeds in your yard. What’s worse is if you don’t deal with goat head quickly, it can overtake lawns and gardens. Even mowing won’t stop it from reseeding. Goat head can grow low along the ground, dropping burrs at soil height. To kill it, you have to take drastic measures.
Apply Weed Killer Spray
Goat head is a perennial weed with a deep taproot. Hand-pulling is usually ineffective in removing it because goat heads will simply grow back from portions of the root that break off in the soil. For this reason, invest in a weed killer spray that kills goat heads as they sprout.
- In gardens, RoundUp and other Glyphosate-based weed killers are a good option for killing goat heads. Just make sure not to spray any desirable garden plants—Glyphosate will kill any plant it’s applied to.
- In yards, use a selective weed killer (we recommend a selective broadleaf weed killer with 2,4 D) to kill goat heads without harming the grass.
Allow 1–2 weeks for the weed killer to work. While the top of the plant may show wilting within hours, it takes time for the weed killer to destroy the plant down to the root.
Use A Flame Weeder
There’s one problem with weed killer sprays—they don’t kill weed seeds. Those painful burrs goat heads drop are actually their seeds, and they will sprout vigorously if left uncontrolled.
Flame weeders are amazing tools for natural weed-killing. Usually fueled by a propane tank, they’re like a mini-flamethrower, perfect for torching weeds. Not only will a flame weeder kill the plants you burn, but the propane flame also destroys any seeds on the plant, including those awful goat head burrs.
Always take caution when using a weed burner, especially during dry or windy conditions. Use the flame weeder in a controlled manner and carefully burn the entire goat head plant to ensure it’s destroyed.
Remove Dead Weeds
After spraying or torching goat heads and giving them time to die completely (in the case of weed killer), now’s the time to remove the dead weeds. Either through hand-weeding or the use of a rake, get rid of the goat head you killed. This will help ensure no seeds are dropped from dead plants and also clear the ground so that grass or desirable plants can grow in its place. Any area where something else is growing makes it harder for goat heads to return.
Lay Down Landscape Fabric and Mulch
Once you’ve killed and removed the weeds in your garden, it’s time to stop goat head weeds from coming back. Most weed seeds must be within 1–2 inches of the surface to sprout. In order to suppress the sprouting of any remaining seeds, lay down water-permeable landscape fabric in your garden and cover with a 3–4-inch layer of mulch.
The landscape fabric will physically stop goat heads from sprouting up through mulch but still allow water and nutrients to reach the soil in your garden. The mulch provides a barrier to sunlight and also invites crickets and beetles that feast on weed seeds.
If you prefer, you can use rock, synthetic mulch, or even newspaper as a ground cover over your landscape fabric. Since goat head thrives in desert environments, many gardeners suppress it with rock and gravel ground coverings that match the environment.
Use a Pre-Emergent Herbicide
Even the best weeding and burning efforts will leave some goat head burrs behind. This is especially troublesome in grassy yards, where landscape fabric and mulch aren’t viable options. Don’t worry, there is a solution to stop goat heads from resprouting in your lawn.
In early spring (late-March or early-April), apply a pre-emergent weed killer to your yard. Pre-emergent weed killers, such as Preen, kill seeds just as they germinate in spring, stopping them before they can sprout. After you’ve taken out mature goat heads, use this method to keep them from coming back.
Keep in mind, pre-emergent weed killers stop the sprouting of all seeds, so don’t use it for 4–6 weeks after seeding grass, or for 3 weeks before seeding your lawn.
How Do You Get Rid of Goat Heads Naturally?
There are several natural ways to kill goat head weeds. Good weed killer sprays come in vinegar, citrus, and iron-based varieties. Each of these can be effective against goat heads.
Not only can you kill goat heads with natural sprays, but you can also use natural pre-emergent controls, such as Corn Gluten Meal, as an alternative to chemical products. Corn Gluten Meal works to stop seed germination by drying out seeds as they attempt to sprout, killing weeds before you even see them.
Will Vinegar Kill Goat Heads?
Vinegar will absolutely cause goat heads to wilt, but a homemade weed killer made with vinegar won’t kill the weeds down to the root.
If you want to experiment with vinegar as a weed killer, we recommend mixing horticultural vinegar with a small portion of dish soap. The soap helps the vinegar adhere to the goat head leaves, which allows the vinegar to eat through the leaf cuticle and kill the plant.
Although some recommend mixing salt with vinegar in your weed killer, keep in mind that while vinegar washes out of the soil quickly, salt in the soil may linger and prevent plant and grass growth.
Goat Head Weed Control Moving Forward
Goat head weeds are among the hardest weeds to control due to the following factors:
- Goat heads are perennial, with strong roots that often resprout when the plant is hand-pulled or sprayed with vinegar.
- Goat heads don’t have to grow tall to seed. They can creep along beneath mower-height and drop their spiky seed burrs.
- Goat heads seed aggressively, and their burrs have a way of making it all over your yard (and into your feet)
Fighting goat head weeds is about taking the long view. Sure, they may seem under control in fall, when they go into dormancy, but as soon as spring comes any surviving roots grow back vigorously. Spring is also when those burrs sprout and grow into goat head plants. The best goat head control method is to remain vigilant throughout the year. Attack any goat heads as soon as you see them, preferably before they mature, and use pre-emergents to stop new sprouts in spring.
The Best Way to Deal With the Dreaded Goat Head Weed
Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.
From a plant perspective, goat head weed (Tribulus terrestris) is a superhero. The fruits are covered with sharp spines or barbs that help it spread quickly. It has a deep taproot, grows in bad soil, and reseeds like you wouldn’t believe. You have to approach the plant with bravery and determination.
Goat head weed is sometimes referred to as puncturevine, cat’s head, devil’s thorn, bindii, or caltrop. It’s an annual broadleaf that readily reseeds itself. Not only is it difficult to eradicate, but it can also poison livestock and pets, and if you’ve ever stepped on it, you know it’s awful.
This noxious weed is widespread in drier climates and is found widely in the U.S. southwest and Rocky Mountain states. It’s expanding its range and has been identified as far north as British Columbia, Canada. Some communities are so desperate to control the species that they are paying a bounty of one dollar per trash bag to people who collect the plants.
It thrives in rocky locations and does well in roadsides, construction areas, and along railroad tracks. It’s also readily found in yards, pastures, and fields. It prefers dry, well-drained, sandy sites below 7,000 feet in elevation.
To get rid of this nasty weed, you have to know a little bit about it. Goat head weed typically grows as a ground cover, but in less favorable conditions, the plant will start growing upward to seek sunshine. The plants have a central crown and the stems radiate out in a dense mat. Stems and leaves are covered with hairs and the branches can grow three feet from the crown.
The plant typically flowers from April to October. After the flower blooms, the plant forms the spiny fruit. The fruit itself consists of five barbs that have several spiny points. They’re sharp enough to pierce your foot through your shoes, flatten a bicycle tire or injure the mouths of livestock.
On top of all that, the burrs are sticky and will cling to passersby. This way, the seeds disperse themselves. Goat head is hardy and prolific and can produce between 200-5,000 seeds per season depending on the growing conditions.
The seeds are long-lived and can remain dormant in the soil for up to five years. If all that wasn’t bad enough, the plant has a long taproot that goes deep into the soil.
An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to where it’s currently living. They often out-compete native species causing harm to the environment and economic loss for farmers.
Goathead is an invasive species that is native to the Mediterranean. It easily outcompetes native species by smothering them. This causes a lack of diversity and it harms wildlife. Native plants and animals evolved together and support each other, so when an invasive species takes over, it’s bad for the entire local environment.
Livestock and Pet Concerns
Goat head weed is a danger to your animals. It can cause harm to their mouths and digestive systems if they accidentally eat the burrs while grazing. Typically, livestock will avoid it when other forages are plentiful.
The leaves are toxic to animals when consumed in large amounts. In addition, it can cause necrosis of the skin, damage to the eye, and in extreme cases, it may cause deaths in immature or smaller animals.
Sheep are particularly sensitive to goat head weed, and it can cause them to have a photovoltaic response that results in sensitivity to light. If they ingest the leaves, it may cause swelling of ears and lips. The burrs can also become tangled in the wool, which ruins the fiber quality and can cause skin lesions.
Getting Rid of Goat Head Weed
Eliminating goat head weed from your property can be a major challenge, but it’s possible. Your best bet is to take a multi-pronged approach.
Stop the Spread
The first step in getting rid of goat head weed is to prevent it from reproducing. Don’t let the plant flower or go to seed. Remove any seedlings by pulling them up, tilling them, burning them – whatever it takes.
The best method is to manually pull out each plant. Make sure soil is well-watered a few hours in advance to loosen it. Use a twisting motion and slowly pull the plant upwards to make sure you get the entire woody taproot. Dispose of them immediately before the seed pods fall off.
You can also burn the plants. Use a propane torch weeder to burn plants down to the ground. This may have to be done several times since they can regrow from the roots. Make sure you follow your local laws on burning.
If you’re lucky enough to not have goat head weed on your property, you still need to remain vigilant. The spiny burrs are made to travel, and people and wildlife unwittingly spread it around.
Take precautions so that you don’t bring the burrs into the house. Wipe your shoes off on a rough mat outside. If you have been working in the yard or garden, remove your shoes on the porch or in a mudroom. Check your pants for signs of burrs. Sweep and vacuum floors frequently. You will also need to check your pet’s fur before they come in and jump on the couch.
Rake up any burrs you see around the plants so that they don’t establish into new plants. You will want a pair of heavy leather gloves when you deal with the burrs.
One nifty trick is to use a scrap of old carpet to collect the burrs. Simply press the carpet side down on the ground so the burrs stick to it. Then, dispose of the carpet.
Mulch Your Garden
Mulch to help suppress goat head weed. Your mulch should be thick at least three inches thick. Straw or woodchips work best.
Add Dominant Native Plants
After you get rid goat head weed, you can reseed or plant with a strong native grass or flower. If you’re in the southwest desert mallow is a beautiful, easy to grow wildflower that can out-compete goat head weed.
St. Augustine is a good broadleaf grass to try, as well as buffalograss, blue grama, black grama, or tobosagrass.
Introduce Puncture Vine Weevils
You can purchase puncture vine weevils from biological supply companies, but this method has several drawbacks. Weevils location-sensitive and may not survive if you buy them from a company far away.
There are two different biocontrol organisms that you can buy. These are a seed-feeding weevil (Microlarinus lareynii) and a stem and crown mining weevil (Microlarinus lypriformis). Use both for the most effective control.
The seed feeding weevils lay eggs in the burrs. When they hatch, the larvae eat the seed pod in the burr, effectively killing them. The stem and crown feeding weevils attack the base of the plant, stunting its growth.
The success rate with them is mixed. Biocontrol insects will only continue to live in areas where the populations of the host plant are high and can support them. Also, make sure they will not harm other plants in your vicinity.
Contact your extension agent to see if they may be worthwhile in your area.
You can spray goat head weeds after they emerge in the spring with a chemical weed killer. Once they’ve flowered or seeded, you’re better off using one of the other methods.
Home remedies have mixed reviews, but Epsom salts and white vinegar is one method worth trying. The weed doesn’t like the acidic vinegar. Mix 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and 1/2 cup of white vinegar in a gallon of water. Pour over the plants so that it saturates the ground. Extension agents report that this may work on small patches but are not an overall effective way to deal with the problem.
Removing a Spine
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself stepping on a goat head weed spine. Lameness can occur in animals who step on the spines, which embed themselves in hooves or paws. The spines will go right through a soft-soled shoe and are murder on bare feet.
To remove a spine, pull it straight out from the direction it went in. Wash the area with hydrogen peroxide. You can also dab on some antibiotic cream, aloe, comfrey or witch hazel. Watch the puncture for signs of infection.
Don’t Lose Hope
It isn’t easy to get rid of goat head, we’re not going to lie. But if you keep at it, it’s possible. Try a combination of these techniques and you’ll have your problem under control in no time flat.