Controlling creeping thistle

Creeping thistle is one of the most problematic weeds for low and zero input farmers due to its ability to grow from small root fragments, often created through mechnical control. Once established, it competes effectively for light and nutrients with most crops, affecting yield.

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Field Lab Timeline

    9/9/2014 11:00:00 PM
  • Identify trial plots and treatments

    Identify trial plots and treatments
  • 9/15/2014 11:00:00 PM
  • Apply first treatment

    Apply first treatment
  • 3/29/2015 12:00:00 AM
  • Apply second treatment

    Apply second treatment
  • 5/16/2015 11:00:00 PM
  • Final treatment application

    Final treatment application
  • 10/5/2015 11:00:00 PM
  • Meeting - discuss findings

    Meeting - discuss findings
  • 11/13/2015 12:00:00 AM
  • Second year of trials

    Second year of trials
  • 4/4/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Third year treatment and monitoring continuation

    Third year treatment and monitoring continuation
  • 6/21/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Follow up meeting on 2015 trial

    Follow up meeting on 2015 trial
  • 10/14/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Third year subsoiling treatment application

    Third year subsoiling treatment application
  • 11/5/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Final third year trial results

    Final third year trial results
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    June 2016

    Follow up meeting on the previous trials

    This meeting in 2016 will be a follow up on progress on the non chemical control of creeping thistles field lab. In particular we will be reviewing the impact this year on treatments carried out in late 2014 and 2015, including deep surface cultivation, weed pepper and mineral applications. The most effective treatment appeared to be deep surface cultivation (8 and 10 inches). Ubiqutek will join the meeting to demonstrate their electric weeder (see photographs of this in field lab documents).

    Please see the findings tab and the documents attached for a full field lab report and results.

    The nature of creeping thistles means that results were difficult to analyse between each trial strip. For future trials, it is recommended that a different approach is taken, as opposed to traditional parallel strips of treatments.

    Although this field lab has since finished monitoring treatments and their effects, please get in contact (0117 987 4572) if you are interested in trialling any of the treatments used to your own farm. Further monitoring of these treatments is key to identifying a clear and effective approach to tackling creeping thistles.

    Milestone: Follow up meeting on 2015 trial

    April 2016

    2016 monitoring

    In spring 2016 another treatment of the electrical weeder was applied. Subsequently, the thistles were dug up and found to be smaller with more infections of bacteria and bruised, likely from the deep surface cultivation (please see photographs in the attached documents).

    No further mineral treatments or thistle pepper brew was applied to the trial site, and thus no further monitoring undertaken.

    Milestone: Third year treatment and monitoring continuation

    October 2015

    Completion of year 1 trials

    There were two treatments which appear to be promising: the Garford hoe and deep surface cultivation. However; further monitoring will be required to observe if the additional minerals or the weed pepper have had an impact and whether the Garford hoe and comb cut has any effect in year two from a treatment in year one. Further work is also required to identify the sensitivities related to deep surface cultivation especially timing and depth. Other fields with thistle problems were deep surface cultivated in May with no visible effect on thistle density.

    Further work
    In 2016 it is intended to continue to monitor the trial plots for all the trials detailed above. In addition two further farmers are to test the impact of combinations of deep surface cultivation and Garford Hoe. Improvements in monitoring protocols re to be introduced. Reports are now available here for this field lab, please see the attached field lab documents.

    Milestone: Meeting - discuss findings

    June 2015

    Final treatment

    Final treatments of the comb cut (cereal crop) and cutting of grass leys were applied to the plots. On the spring barley field the Garford hoe treatment was applied on 15/06/2015 with photographs taken on completion. The comb cut was used on 30/06/2015 on the spring barley and photos were taken.

    Milestone: Final treatment application

    March 2015

    Second treatment applied

    Then trial design was adapted due to weather conditions and difficulty with timings for some of the treatments. The treatments undertaken included cutting of the grass clove leys and the first pass of the mechanical weeders being tested - including a weed comb and a garford hoe within the cereal crop. Manganese and magnesium were also applied to the field of spring barley, as the crop was shown as deficient in these minerals. Later in the season after the garford hoe and comb cut had been used (as in the attached methods document) the weed surfer was used across the whole spring barley field. This meant that it as not been possible to determine any comparisons.

    A farm walk scheduled for the 14/05/2015 was cancelled due to rain which made it impossible to use the electric weeder as scheduled on the clover ley and the spring barley.

    Full details of the final methodology can be found in the field lab documents attached.

    Milestone: Apply second treatment

    September 2014

    Start of the trial

    Trial design was agreed and the randomised strips were pegged out in the field. Strips were verified using GPS. Deep surface cultivating was carried out in the plots allocated to this treatment which was subsequently drilled with a spring cereal crop.

    Milestone: Apply first treatment

    August 2014

    First meeting - field lab planning

    Sandringham Estate: Following introductions from group members of farm details and interest in finding effective methods of non-chemical creeping thistle control, Lynne Tatnell provided information on the growth habits of creeping thistles. Nick Fradgley then provided information on research to date on non – chemical creeping thistle control. The group then discussed the range of possible trials which could be carried out to establish the front runners in terms of effectiveness and practicality. The group then visited the likely site for the upcoming trials which consisted of a field in a fertility building phase with a grass clover ley mixture and a field which would be drilled with a spring cereal crop the following year. Following this the field trial design was agreed for up to 11 different treatments to be tested.
    The trials will be conducted in two fields at Sandringham Pit Hole Piece (12.32ha) – cereals and fallow. 400m x 365m. This will allow for 33 x 12m strips Another field in year 2 old grass/ clover (as close as possible to Pit Hole Piece) In all some 11 different treatments will be tested in 24 treated strips and eight control strips with no treatments applied

    Milestone: Identify trial plots and treatments

  • Findings

    November 2016


    The electrical weeder was effective, but the equipment needs development before it can be used at field-scale. It seems the most effective method is to use sub-soiling or deep surface cultivation at a depth of 8” and 10”. Most tractor mounted cultivation tools will break up and turn surface soil but deeper cultivation appears effective in damaging the roots of the thistle, resulting in significantly less growth.

    As well as depth it’s thought that timing is important too. If cultivation happens once the thistles have stopped growing in the autumn, this gives more time for rhizome degradation to take place over winter. There is no definitive reason for the knock back of the thistle but it is thought that the sub-soiler bruises the roots allowing disease to enter and the lifting of the soil allows oxygen in which allows the disease to spread.

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