Controlling Goathead Thorn

Question from Joy:
I live in El Cajon, Calif. We have a weed here that we call a “goathead”. Do you know what it actually is? and how I can get rid of them? We call use that name becaause the sticker looks like a rock with 2 horn. They are actually so sharp and tough they can flaten a bicycle tire.

Answer from Pat:
Goathead thorn or puncture plant (Tribulus terrestris) is about as noxious a weed as ever came down the track. (The common name comes from the shape of the seed heads.) So sorry to hear that you have it in El Cajon. If you have a dog, consider purchasing a stout pair of dog shoes for it. Some pet owners even muzzle their dogs to protect their mouths and noses when outdoors. The fact that a small, seemingly innocuous, weed can make thorns (and lots of them) stout enough to puncture a bicycle tire or even a car tire, may give readers a pretty clear idea of how much harm this plant can do to grazing animals, pets, or bare-footed humans.

Goathead thorn is native to the Old World but was accidentally introduced on animal fur and has now proliferated throughout the Southwestern states. Getting rid of it permanently on ranch lands may never be possible. Nonetheless, the department of Agriculture has already undertaken a concerted campaign of biological control by importing an insect called the puncture vine weevil to control it. Puncture vine weevils and other biological controls are available for sale to homeowners also. For more information, follow this link:

Both puncture vine stem weevils and puncture vine seed weevils are sold. If gardeners and farmers gang up on this weed we may be able to eradicate it from neighborhoods and perhaps eventuallywe’ll be able to control it on a larger scale throughout the west.

Another way of getting rid of this horrendous weed on a small scale is to burn it with a propane torch when you first see it in your yard, which effectively kills the plant and destroys the savage seedheads as well, but this solution is not permitted in many Western towns due to fire danger. (Before using a flame gun to destroy weeds, always investigate your local laws and restrictions or you may suffer a stiff fine.)

Still another organic way is to pull up the plants as soon as you see them and then press the area with a scrap of out-dated carpet one can obtain free from a carpet company to pick up any seeds that may have fallen to the ground. The seeds of goathead thorn were designed by nature to cling to the wool of animals, such as sheep and goats. They will grab and cling to a piece of carpet in the same way. Continue pulling up the plants and picking up the seeds in this way as soon as you see them, so you get those that have already been seeded. Weeding by hand really works but it takes persistence. Follow up by treating the ground with an organic pre-emergent such as Corn Gluten Meal to stop the seeds that the carpet missed, from germinating. Unfortunately seeds are long-lasting in the ground so you may need to stay vigilant for as long as seven years to get all that were accidentally introduced into your garden.

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  1. Thank you sooooooooooooooo much for your quick reply and helpful info. Sorry for the typos which I did not notice till re-reading with your reply. Your efforts are much appreciated.

  2. What time of year is it best to burn the goat head weed

    • In most parts of the west burning grass, weeds and garden waste is against the law. Instead of burning, pull the weeds before they go to seed, rake up the remains, bag them and send them to the trash. If you live in a locality where using a flame thrower as a weedkiller is not against the law, burn these weeds as soon as you see them and dig up the roots so they don’t re-sprout from the ground, or alternatively, after burning them off in spring as soon as they sprout from the ground and before seeds set, keep an eye on them and if they come up again from the roots, burn them off again and continue doing this early in the year before seeds are set until they no longer re-sprout from the ground.

      • Regarding goatheads and large yards..I live in Golden Valley Arizona and next door neighbors drag bedsprings weighted down with old tires behind pick up truck & repeat. Veteran’s Park drags a custom sled thing weighted down with piece of iron train track. They level/ scrape running track, most of park dragging it behind a truck. Around trees and pavillions, paths they drag it with an atv to remove goatheads. What is left along fence lines is ALL that needs physical removal…like hula hoe. I took pictures of this gadget with my phone and measuring tape-I could send pics. A welder/ metal worker could quickly figure out specs for making one like it. Or Northern Tools has a Brinly-Hardy box scraper ~read their comments. * Weed Smarter not Harder!

        • Thank you so very much for these excellent suggestions but your instructions are not clear enough for me to understand. Do you mean they are scraping off the surface soil? Or are they using carpet attached to this equipment? If dragging and removing the soil, where do they dump the soil with the seeds and thorns in it? Perhaps you mean they are simply getting rid of the plants already growing, but might not there be other seeds left in the ground? If removing the growing plants, what time of year do they do this and does it effectively get rid of this pest or are some seeds left to grow another year?

  3. Hi I was wondering what you would suggest for an acre lot that was vacant before my in laws built on it and it was covered with goat head weeds. They are everywhere in the front and it’s at least a half an acre that I would have to de thorn. We want to get a dog but worried about thorns in paws & nose! We don’t know how to remove them since there are so many. Any suggestions? Are there lawn services that may could help? We thought about doggie boots but their are so many goatheads out there its realy impossible to rid the lot of them. We live in the city limits and cannot burn. Thanks for any help. 🙂

    • This is a severe problem. I have already addressed this in detail and provided a solution that is time consuming but organic. I suppose you read my answer and hoped there was something better. Yes, try landscape companies. You can hire companies to do this but usually they use chemicals, most likely Roundup. The rest of the cleanup using carpet must be done also unless you can torch the ground. One could cover a lawn roller with old carpet on the outside and roll it across the property but it wouldn’t get all the horns as will burning.

      • Here is another idea that came to me in the shower: Remove all weeds. Rake up, bag, send to dump all debris. Scrape off layer of topsoil with bulldozer. Replace with truckloads of topsoil. Install patios and paths with water-permeable weed barrier (landscape cloth) underneath. Lay chicken wire flat under lawn areas to foil gophers. Install lawn from sod (not seeds). In areas where you eventually want shrubberies, vines, trees & flower beds: Cover these areas with weed barrier landscape fabric and then cover that with a thick layer (4-inches deep) of mulch. Apply preemergent herbicide over entire property. Assiduously pull weeds. In two or three years make X through landscape fabric to plant shrubs, vines, trees, flowers, build arbors, pergolas, etc. Build raised beds in full sun for growing veggies. Install gravel over landscape cloth surrounding the raised beds.


    At the start of spring, prune them to between 12- and 18-inches; they will
    be two feet larger by midsummer. They do not disturb the general effect, but just blend with the
    whole. The latest site she has added relates to Landscape Gardening and if you would like to know
    more please visit.

  5. I have an issue with them in a vacant dirt lot as a back yard. The lot is rather large in square footage and has no vegetation on it. However the dried up goat heads are everywhere back there. we just moved in and the kids as well as the pups are now tracking them in the house. Do you know of an efficient way to remove them from barren soil? The first thing that comes to mind is to start little mini fires in the back yard using gas but small enough areas they can be contained, but burning small sections at a a time. Does anybody know if that will work or if there is a better solution?

    • If you live in California, burning is likely to be against the law and not at all sure it would destroy them. Did you look up Brinley scrapers? Another comment mentioned that scraping the ground worked. Phone the company and ask about “box scrapers”.

  6. Hi there, I have a sever problem with goats heads seeds. My yard is 0.38 of an acre. I have cleared goats heads year after year, this year my husband became very ill and I was unable to work in my yard. So after pulling them late in the season (huge pants covered in seeds) my yard now has layers upon layers of seeds! I am in a panic because I’ve tried carpet, rugs, blankets, my son has even sprayed the front and outer edges of our fence line with a ground clear and the plant is still growing back! We live in Nevada and normally we’re quite dry here, though this year and after pulling goats heads and weeds all year long, the rains came at the end fo summer;which brought them back with avenges and I cannot deal with them alone anymore. There are now thousands up on thousands of seeds in my yard right now. After years of pulling these nasty things, all year long, I am now over powered. Please help! I need a solution. I want to plant a lawn, but don’t know how I’m able to do so with such a massive infestation… 🙁

    • I wish I had more advice than I have already given on this serious problem, but I do not. I can think of solutions such as digging a deep hole, bulldozing the property and deeply burying the top layer of soil with pre-emergent herbicide in the hole, but this would be hugely expensive. Perhaps a landscaper in your area has hit upon a solution. Since you want to install a lawn, it is likely the company you hire to install it might be able to help you. Possibly, pre-emergent followed up with landscape fabric and clean topsoil on top of that might work. Meanwhile my deepest sympathy.

  7. We have a major infestation on the south side of our house. Last years I spent hours pulling the plants with 5 foot vines and hundreds of seeds. I then used a shop vac to vaccum the seeds out of the area. The new plants are just now starting to emerge and thus I am starting my next assault!! Such a pain in the butt!! I was able to suck up thousands and thousands of seeds with the shop vac, though so I think my infestation will be smaller this year.

    • I am sorry you have this sad problem. Since the seeds recently germinated in your area and we are now in mid-June I recommend applying a pre-emergent herbicide, such as Preen Weed Preventer annually in April and again in May. If rains are heavier next year you might have to apply this as early as March. Good luck. You sound like a very determined warrior!

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