Home Gardening How to Get Rid of Goat Head Weeds

How to Get Rid of Goat Head Weeds – GIY Plants

Goat head weed growing outside with yellow flowers.

Goat head weeds, scientifically known as Tribulus Terrestris, have earned a notorious reputation among homeowners, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. These invasive species possess a unique feature – sharp, spiny burrs known for their uncanny ability to puncture bicycle tires and injure bare feet. This article provides detailed insights into the origins, identification, dangers, and, ultimately, the methods of eradicating this persistent weed also known as puncturevine.

Origins and Name

Originally native to the Mediterranean region, Tribulus Terrestris is aptly named “goat head weed” due to its unique seed shape, which resembles a goat’s head. It’s commonly known by various other names including: Puncturevine, bindii, caltrop, bullhead, cat’s head, devil’s weed, and tackweed.

This plant has a preference for dry, sandy soils and has established itself in waste places, roadside areas, and even in well-manicured yards and gardens across the rocky mountain states of the U.S.

Close up of the goat head looking seed pods of the tribulus terrestris weed

Understanding Goat Head Weed

Goat head weed is an annual broadleaf weed that exhibits aggressive growth. Its stems radiate outward from a central point, forming a mat of vines that can spread up to five feet in diameter, thus quickly taking over large patches of land.

Growth Stages of Goat Head Weed

To understand how to manage and eradicate this weed effectively, it’s essential to understand its growth stages. Each stage presents unique opportunities and challenges for control.


The seedling stage provides the best opportunity to control goat head weeds. Look for tiny seedlings with divided leaves in late winter or early spring. A timely response at this stage, through diligent weeding, can help prevent a future infestation.


As the weed matures, it forms a rosette-like pattern with pinnately compound leaves. Mature plants are more challenging to control due to their deep, woody taproot that firmly anchors the plant to the ground.


The weed enters the flowering stage during the summer, producing yellow flowers. Each flower blooms for a day and is replaced by a tough, spiny seed pod or ‘goat head.’


In the reproductive stage, each flower gives way to seed heads containing four to five seeds. These seeds, or ‘goat heads,’ have sharp spines that can easily puncture the skin or thin rubber.

Threats Posed by Goat Head Weeds

Goat head weed poses a significant threat to humans, pets, and livestock. Their sharp burrs can cause discomfort and injury to pets. Moreover, the plant can be toxic to livestock if consumed in large quantities.

How to Get Rid of Goat Head Weed

Effective control of goat head weed requires a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach involving prevention, mechanical removal, and possibly chemical herbicides.

1. Manual Removal

Manual removal is the most direct method of controlling goat head weeds. Be sure to wear protective gloves and sturdy shoes to prevent injury from the spines. Using a weeder, pry up the entire plant, including the root, using a twisting motion. It is crucial to remove the root as the plant can regrow from a leftover taproot.

2. Organic Control

For those interested in organic methods, using a propane torch weeder can effectively kill these pesky plants. The torch damages the weed’s tissues, causing it to wither and die. Apply the flame to the weed until it wilts but avoid starting a fire.

3. Preventative Measures

Prevention is the key to controlling goat head weeds. Regularly inspect your property for new growth and promptly remove any new plants. Pre-emergent herbicides can be applied in late winter or early spring to prevent the germination of any existing seeds in the soil.

4. Biological Control

Biological control involves using the natural enemies of the goat head weed, such as the puncturevine weevil (Microlarinus lypriformis). The female weevils lay their eggs in young goat head burrs, and when the larvae hatch, they consume the seeds within the burrs. Introducing these weevils to an area infested with goat head weed can significantly reduce the weed population.

5. Use of Horticultural Vinegar

Horticultural vinegar, a natural weed killer with a higher acetic acid concentration than regular vinegar, can also be an effective solution. To apply, spray the vinegar directly onto the goat head weeds. However, caution must be taken to avoid contact with desirable plants, as the vinegar can harm them.

6. Keeping the Area Clean

Keeping the area clean and debris-free can also help control goat head weeds. Regular mowing of your yard or garden can prevent weeds from flowering and producing seeds. For more significant properties, consider planting native species that can out-compete goat head weeds for resources.

7. Monitoring and Maintenance

After implementing the above steps, continual monitoring is crucial to ensure the goat head weed doesn’t return. Check your yard regularly for new growth and remove it promptly. Maintenance also includes looking after the health of other plants in your yard or garden. Healthy, well-maintained landscapes are less likely to be overrun by invasive species such as goat head weeds.

Goat head weed is a resilient invader, and while getting rid of it may seem challenging, it is not an impossible task. Understanding the weed’s life cycle, identification, and control methods makes it possible to rid your yard of this troublesome weed.

Persistence is critical whether you choose manual removal, organic controls, chemical herbicides, or a combination. Over time, you’ll reduce the goat head weed population, reclaim your space, and create a safer environment for you and your pets.

Chemical Herbicide for Goat Head Weed Control

If the infestation is severe, a chemical herbicide may be required. Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure safe and effective use.

With a strategic and diligent approach, removing goat head weeds and reclaiming your space is possible. Regardless of the method chosen, the best results come from consistent and persistent efforts to combat these stubborn invaders.

8. Pre-Emergent Herbicide

Pre-emergent herbicides are a helpful tool in preventing the germination of goat head weed seeds. These herbicides create a chemical barrier in the soil that stops seed germination. The best time to apply these herbicides is in late winter or early spring before the weed seeds germinate. Read and follow all label instructions before use.

9. Post-Emergent Herbicide

Post-emergent herbicides are designed to kill existing plants. They are best applied when the goat head weed is young and actively growing, typically in the late spring or early summer. Be sure to choose a selective herbicide that targets broadleaf plants to avoid harming your desirable plants. Remember to wear protective clothing and follow all safety instructions when applying herbicides.

10. Regular Reapplication

Remember that one herbicide application may not completely kill all the goat head weeds, especially if you have a significant infestation. Regular reapplication according to the manufacturer’s instructions may be necessary to achieve complete control. Be patient and persistent.

11. Rotate Control Methods

If you use herbicides, consider rotating your control methods to prevent the goat head weed from developing resistance. For instance, you might use a pre-emergent herbicide one year and switch to manual removal or a post-emergent herbicide the following year.

Don’t Give Up

Fighting goat head weed can sometimes feel like a losing battle, but don’t give up. With persistence, determination, and a well-thought-out strategy, you can eliminate these troublesome weeds and enjoy a puncture-free yard or garden. Remember to regularly monitor your area for new growth and respond quickly to new infestations. With time, you’ll see less and less of the dreaded goat head weed, making all your efforts worthwhile.

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