Are you interested in growing milk thistle in Michigan?
This spiny plant with white-veined leaves and purple flowers is commonly used for medicinal purposes, but it can also be a beautiful addition to your garden.
However, before you start planting, it’s important to understand the best practices for growing milk thistle in Michigan.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of growing milk thistle, the potential risks associated with invasive species, and the steps you can take to successfully cultivate this plant in your own backyard.
So, let’s dive in and discover whether milk thistle is a good fit for your Michigan garden!
Can I Grow Milk Thistle In Michigan?
Yes, you can grow milk thistle in Michigan! However, it’s important to note that milk thistle is considered a regulated Class A noxious weed in some areas, including King County. This means that it can be toxic to livestock and can also threaten native plant species if it spreads uncontrollably.
To avoid any potential risks, it’s important to follow the proper guidelines for growing milk thistle in Michigan.
The Benefits Of Growing Milk Thistle In Michigan
Milk thistle is a plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine. It has been used to treat liver disorders, gallbladder problems, and other conditions. The plant is also known for its ability to detoxify the liver and protect it from damage caused by toxins.
Growing milk thistle in Michigan can provide many benefits. For one, it is a hardy plant that is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, provided the soil is well-drained. This makes it an ideal choice for Michigan’s climate. Additionally, milk thistle is easy to grow from seed and can be harvested for its leaves and seeds.
The seeds of milk thistle are particularly valuable as they contain a compound called silymarin, which has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Silymarin is also believed to help protect the liver by promoting the growth of new liver cells and reducing inflammation.
In Michigan, growing milk thistle can also help to support pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The plant produces pink-purple flower heads that are attractive to these insects.
Understanding Invasive Species And Milk Thistle
Invasive species, such as Canada thistle, bull thistle, and European swamp thistle, can pose a threat to native plants in high quality natural areas. These invasive species can replace native plants, reducing critical food resources for birds, butterflies, and other wild creatures. Milk thistle is also regarded as an invasive weed in some states, including Oregon.
Milk thistle is not native to the United States and can spread rapidly through its seeds, which can stay viable for up to nine years. This plant will overstay its welcome anywhere it can find fertile soils that are often disturbed. Like many other invasive species, milk thistle will form dense patches that outcompete native plants for moisture, sunlight, and nutrients.
One of the worst things about milk thistle invasion is that it accumulates nitrates and can poison cattle and sheep. Therefore, it’s important to take special care and harvesting techniques when growing milk thistle to make sure the seeds don’t spread beyond your garden.
To prevent the spread of invasive species like milk thistle, it’s essential to develop a management plan that includes surveys so that you can ensure you’re best prioritizing control efforts. Control methods vary from species to species. For bull thistle and swamp thistle, hand pull from early spring through early summer. Leave the plant onsite but remove flowers, which will still produce seed. For Canada thistle, chemical control is needed due to the large tap root and horizontal roots, and because the plant is a perennial.
Choosing The Right Location For Milk Thistle
When choosing a location to grow milk thistle in Michigan, it’s important to consider the plant’s natural habitat and growing conditions. Milk thistle is native to warm climates, but it can still thrive in Michigan if it’s given the right conditions.
First and foremost, milk thistle prefers well-draining soil with a pH range of 6.0-7.5. It also needs full sun exposure for at least six hours a day, so make sure to choose a location that receives ample sunlight. Additionally, milk thistle grows best in areas with mild temperatures, so it’s important to avoid planting it in areas that are prone to extreme heat or cold.
It’s also important to consider the potential risks of growing milk thistle in Michigan. As mentioned earlier, milk thistle is considered a noxious weed in some areas, so make sure to check with your local agricultural authorities before planting it. Additionally, milk thistle can be toxic to livestock, so avoid planting it in areas where animals graze.
Planting And Caring For Milk Thistle In Michigan
1. When To Plant Milk Thistle In Michigan:
In Michigan, you can direct sow milk thistle seeds in your garden from early spring to late fall. Alternatively, you can start the seeds indoors in containers during February-March. Plant the seeds about 1/4′′ deep in organic seed starting mix.
2. Maintaining Soil And Temperature:
To ensure successful germination, maintain lightly damp soil (not wet) and temperatures around 70°F (21°C) until the seeds have sprouted.
3. Sunlight Requirements:
Immediately after germination, your milk thistle seedlings will need direct sunlight. At this point, you can either leave them outdoors any time temps are above frost/freezing and bring them indoors any time temps go below frost/freezing.
4. Transplanting Seedlings:
Transplant your milk thistle seedlings outdoors as soon as your last frost date has passed. The sooner, the better so their long tap roots don’t get too wrapped around in the seedling cells. Space the plant 12-15 inches (30-38 cm) apart to ensure proper growth.
5. Soil Requirements:
Milk thistle is very adaptable to growing conditions, provided the soil is well-drained. It is recommended to wear gloves when thinning or hand-weeding as it is prickly.
6. Harvesting Milk Thistle:
Young plants can be picked for salads or steaming, but the spines need to be removed. The seeds are harvested in the fall from the drying flower heads on the plant.
Harvesting And Using Milk Thistle For Medicinal Purposes
Milk thistle has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, particularly for liver disorders. The seeds and above ground parts of the plant are used to make medicine. Milk thistle is taken by mouth for a variety of conditions, including liver damage caused by chemicals, alcohol, and chemotherapy, as well as liver damage caused by mushroom poisoning, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic hepatitis.
If you are interested in harvesting and using milk thistle for medicinal purposes, it’s important to know how to properly prepare the plant. The young leaves can be harvested when tender and used fresh. They can be snipped off at the base of the stem and boiled like globe artichoke. Once cooked, they can be served with butter, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice. The roots and stalks of the plant can also be harvested and sliced thinly. Before cooking or stir-frying, it’s important to peel and soak the roots and stalks to remove any bitterness. They can also be boiled in soups and stews.
The seeds of milk thistle can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute. They are also quite sweet to chew as a snack. Milk thistle supplements are available for purchase, but if you want to try harvesting your own milk thistle, it’s important to follow proper guidelines for growing the plant.
To grow milk thistle in Michigan, direct sow in early spring or late fall as milk thistle is a biennial plant. Sow every 3 inches, barely covering the seed as light is needed for germination. Thin plants after 2 sets of true leaves present to 24-36 inches in 3-foot apart rows. Keep the soil moist until established and hand weed with gloves until it fills in quickly.
Common Issues And Troubleshooting Tips For Growing Milk Thistle In Michigan
While milk thistle is not native to Michigan, it can still be grown successfully with proper care and attention. Here are some common issues and troubleshooting tips to keep in mind:
1. Soil: Milk thistle prefers well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, consider amending it with compost or other organic materials before planting.
2. Water: Milk thistle requires consistent moisture, but can be susceptible to root rot if the soil is too wet. Make sure to water regularly, but avoid overwatering.
3. Temperature: Milk thistle is a hardy plant that can tolerate a range of temperatures, but prefers cooler temperatures between 60-70°F. In hotter climates, it may benefit from some shade during the hottest part of the day.
4. Pests and Diseases: Milk thistle is generally resistant to pests and diseases, but can be susceptible to aphids and fungal infections in humid conditions. Keep an eye out for any signs of infestation or disease, and treat promptly if necessary.
5. Harvesting: Milk thistle can be harvested for its seeds, which are used in herbal remedies and supplements. Wait until the flowers have dried out and turned brown before harvesting the seeds.