How to Grow Milk Thistle
Jennifer Lesser is a New Jersey-based freelance writer covering health/fitness, family/parenting, business, and lifestyle. She has over 16 years of experience writing for various outlets including Time Out NY and Parenting
The Spruce / Randi Rhoades
Though it’s sometimes considered a weed due to its invasive properties and ability to spread quickly, the milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum) has some positive qualities.
All parts of these tall and thorny biennial flowering plants can be eaten. The seeds can be harvested and you can cook and consume both the leaves and flower heads.
The flowers are most commonly harvested for their seeds. The flower heads can be cut with scissors when they’re young, and then either boiled or steamed until they’re tender enough to eat. However, these plants can be toxic to many animals.
The milk thistle’s purple flowers sit on top of spiky heads, and it is also known for its bright green foliage with white marbling (which is what give the plant its milky moniker).
The Mediterranean native plant is particularly fond of growing in rocky, dry regions.
In some locations, growing milk thistle is actually illegal because of its ability to spread and destroy ecosystems. They can also grow to be rather large (up to three feet tall and four feet wide), and the flower stalks themselves produce multiple flowers and can reach heights up to five feet. The milk thistle also happens to be very cold hardy and difficult to eradicate once it’s established thanks to its deep taproots and dense foliage.
There are some other species of thistle that are not as invasive, but you’ll know it’s a milk thistle because of the white markings on its foliage that other native species do not have.
|Botanical Name||Silybum marianum|
|Common Name||Milk thistle|
|Mature Size||Up to 3 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, Part shade|
|Soil Type||All varieties|
|Soil pH||6 – 6.5|
|Hardiness Zones||5 – 9, USA|
Milk Thistle Plant Care
Milk thistle is considered very easy to grow and can tolerate most conditions, but this means it is also extremely invasive. These plants behave and spread much like weeds, which means they can quickly overtake any other plants nearby and absorb all of the space and nutrients.
You’ll need to check if you can grow it in your region legally and weigh up the plants pros and cons before deciding to grow it.
The Zen Birdfeeder
The Zen Birdfeeder focuses on the birds and other nature we find in our own yards and the zen principles of ATTENTION, ACCEPTANCE, and RESPONSIBILITY.
January 13, 2011
Top 5 Things to Know about Niger Seed
1) WHEN NIGER SEED DRIES OUT, BIRDS WON’T EAT IT
Niger is a oily seed which makes it an excellent energy source for the birds that eat it. But its oily nature also causes it to dry out AND LOSE ITS ATTRACTIVENESS TO BIRDS.
Birds will turn their beaks to old niger seed. Avoid waste by only purchasing niger in a quantity you’ll use in a month or two.
2) NIGER SEED IS NOT THISTLE SEED (AND OTHER CONFUSING THINGS ABOUT THE NAME)
Niger seed used to be called thistle, but it is not the noxious thistle weed we see growing on roadsides. It typically will not germinate under your feeders since the USDA requires that all niger seed imported to this country be heat-treated to sterilize the seed.
Niger seed can also be kind of dusty so seed processors may add a small amount of vegetable oil to the seed before bagging to keep the dust down.
Niger is an agricultural crop imported primarily from India, Ethiopia, Nepal and Burma (Myanmar). In these countries, it is processed into both cooking and lighting oil. You may also see it called nyjer or Nyger®.
3) NIGER SEED HAS A SHELL
As small as it is, a niger seed does have a shell. If you think birds aren’t eating the seed because you see some on the ground, examine it more closely: you may be seeing mostly the thin niger hulls.
4) WHEN NIGER SEED GETS MOLDY, IT IS BAD FOR THE BIRDS
Niger seed is vulnerable to spoilage while in the feeder. Replace niger seed every 3-4 weeks if it is not being actively eaten.
Shake the feeder daily to help prevent clumping and mold. Make sure the seed stays dry; a weather guard can help in this regard. If bird activity slows, only fill the feeder halfway.
If the seed gets moldy, it should be discarded and a 10% bleach/water solution should be used to clean the feeder. The WBU EcoClean Finch Feeder has antimicrobial protection and a Quick-Clean™ base to help make cleaning a snap!
Common Redpolls eat niger seed from a mesh finch feeder.
5) MORE SPECIES THAN JUST GOLDFINCHES EAT NIGER SEED
Niger seed is one of the favorite seeds of goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and other small-billed seed-eating birds. We’ve also seen nuthatches, chickadees, doves, Downy Woodpeckers, and other small birds eating it. Let me know other birds you’ve seen eating niger.
And a bonus to feeding niger seed? Squirrels typically ignore it when fed straight up! So hang those niger feeders and enjoy the finches and other birds!