Why There Will Always be Thistle
There will always be thistle, said the late US Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin in one of her poems, because "Sheep will not eat it / nor horses nor cattle / unless they are starving." She described it "choking the sweet grass / defeating the clover," and pricking the hands with its spines.

Okay, I guess thistles are not everyone's favorite wildflower, but I've always liked them. I'm not a farmer, so it's easy for me to say. I like them because they're pretty, they remind me of the vast Minnesota prairie, and they're like grocery stores for goldfinches.

Members of the sunflower family, thistles thrive in almost any environment except deep woods: open fields, sand and gravel pits, vacant lots, roadsides, and the edges of wetlands. The US has more than 200 species, growing from two to ten feet high and bearing pink, purple, white, or yellow blooms. The flowers are large; most thistle plants only flower once in a lifecycle, so a lot of energy goes into producing seed in that one bloom. Some species produce 4,000 to 10,000 seeds per plant.

North America has native and non-native thistles. The thistle's bad reputation is mostly due to the weedy and invasive nature of several non-native species. They compete with crops, and their deep tap roots make them difficult to eradicate. They're also very prickly. Native species, on the other hand, have stems that range from hairy to slightly prickly. Non-native thistle species in Minnesota include the bull thistle, the musk thistle, and the Canada thistle (which is misnamed, since it was brought from Europe to North America). So hated is the Canada thistle that many states have put it on their Prohibited Noxious Weed list.

Non-native thistles get a lot of people's goats. (Goats will eat thistles, though they save them for last.) Unfortunately, native thistles suffer as a result. According to the Xerces Society, native thistles are accidently targeted for removal along with non-native ones, putting several species at risk of extinction. The Society's scientists point out that, in some regions, monarch butterflies visit native thistles more than any other wildflower during their migration. Other butterflies and bees do not discriminate. Whether native or introduced, thistles are a favorite food for pollinating insects and many birds.

The thistle's biggest fan is the American goldfinch. Goldfinches rely heavily on thistle plants for food and use thistledown in their nests. Unlike most songbirds, goldfinches rarely eat insects or feed them to their babies. They are late breeders, building nests in late June and early July and raising nestlings in late summer when thistle seed heads are abundant. Upside-down goldfinches are a common sight as they bend thistle stalks over completely and cling to flowers to peck at the seed heads.

Native thistles also include the field thistle and the pasture thistle. Also native, but less widespread, is the swamp thistle. With all the current threats to pollinators, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and light pollution, native thistles deserve some love.
Bull thistle can be dug up with a shovel. Flowering stems should be collected and destroyed to keep them from forming viable seed.
Musk thistle (Carduus nutans), native to Eurasia, is a hardy biennial that’s proven itself equally at home in variable climates and continents, growing almost everywhere it’s introduced.
Canada thistle (C. arvense) aggressively spreads by the roots. A single plant’s root system can expand 10 feet a year, and colonize a half an acre in three years.
The flowerheads of Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) attract many insects, especially long-tongued bees, butterflies, and skippers.
How to Water Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs
When adding new trees to a landscape, it is important not to forget the basics. What can be more basic than watering a tree? In many instances managers/homeowners neglect to discuss the post planting watering schedule. Did you know it takes a B&B (Ball & Burlap) tree an average of five years to replace the roots lost in the nursery, just to get back to what it used to be prior to spading it out of the ground in order to sell. Save yourself the stress and plan ahead to ensure your new plant material has the necessary water to thrive.

New trees and shrubs need water the most to survive, especially in the first year. Since 90% of the roots were cut off in B&B trees, there are not enough roots to adequately support the top portion of the tree until they regrow. Imagine your trees are still in the nursery. Nursery stock gets watered multiple times per day. Until your tree has grown roots into the surrounding soil, they still need this intense level of watering.

Since water will NOT move from the surrounding area into the root ball, watering the root ball is critical, which is why we should not rely on irrigation systems alone. Because it is so important, I am repeating a portion of the last sentence: water will NOT move from the surrounding area into the root ball, watering the root ball is critical.

Evidence of transplant shock will include multiple dead branches or dead leaves in the crown or plant material that does not leaf out the following year.  A strong watering plan following installation will reduce transplant shock while stimulating root growth and vitality of the plant. At a minimum a three-year watering plan should be implemented following installation of new plant material.

Below is a loose guideline that may assist in structuring the plans for your landscape.

  • 1st Year: Water after the initial planting daily for two weeks, then water twice a week till frost. 
  • 2nd Year: Water once a week
  • 3rd Year: Every other week
  • Optional - 4th & 5th Year: 2-3 soakings in Mid to Late Summer during high heat should be adequate.
The correct positioning of the hose, right at the base of the trunk.
Newly planted Ball and Burlap spruce dying from lack of water. Only lawn irrigation was provided to these trees.
A few pennies of water would have saved this very expensive tree.
Mom's Meatloaf
½ cup grated carrots
1 small onion, diced
2 lbs ground beef
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 egg
½ cup milk

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Turn the meat mixture into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour 15 min.
Thanks for Reading
and Happy Planting!
Faith Appelquist
President & Founder