Overview of Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) – A Common Weed in Kenya

Sow thistle, also known as milk thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), is a significant weed in Kenya, causing concern for its control. This article provides information about its botanical characteristics, ecological requirements, distribution in Kenya, disadvantages to crops, and suggests green life solutions for control.

Botanical Characteristics and Identification


The stem of sow thistle is erect, hollow, smooth, and stout, branching at the top. It exudes a milky sap when damaged.


Sow thistle leaves are alternate and have spiny, deeply lobed margins. Lower leaves have petioles, while upper leaves are sessile. The leaves also feature purple veins.


The weed produces numerous yellow flower heads that appear in clusters called corymbs.


Sow thistle seeds are brown, ridged, and have a tuft of fine white hair.


It has an upright taproot system with multiple branches.

Ecological Requirements


Sow thistle can grow in a wide range of climates and habitats, including gardens, cultivated lands, roadsides, mountains, and near water sources. In arid and semi-arid areas, it is commonly found near waterways, ponds, and springs.

Soil and Moisture

The weed prefers areas with no vegetation cover and can grow in light (sandy), medium (loamy), and heavy (clay) soils. It can adapt to acidic, neutral, and alkaline soils. Moist soil conditions, with a mean annual rainfall ranging from 300-2800mm, favor its growth.

Adaptation to Environmental Conditions

Sow thistle exhibits high adaptability to different environments and is considered a habitat generalist. It thrives in disturbed areas and is abundant in its native range. The weed grows rapidly and has a high reproductive potential. It benefits from human association, being commensal to human activities. The leaves of sow thistle are thin, spiked, and generally reduced to cope with dry climates.

Distribution in Kenya

Due to its ability to survive in varied climatic and ecological conditions, sow thistle is found in different parts of Kenya. It can be observed in the eastern parts, coastal regions, Mt. Kenya areas, and some parts of western Nyanza.

Disadvantages to Crops

Sow thistle poses a threat to crops due to its competitive nature. It competes with crops for water, nutrients, and light, often depriving the crops of these essential resources. Additionally, the weed acts as an alternate host for pests such as cotton bollworm, whiteflies, leaf mining and gall-forming flies, and aphids, which can migrate to nearby crops and cause damage.

Sow thistle is also prone to fungal diseases like powdery mildew, water molds, botrytis, and rust, increasing the risk of infestation in neighboring crops. Moreover, it serves as a host for viral diseases such as watermelon mosaic virus, Pepino mosaic virus, tomato spotted wilt virus, and alfalfa mosaic virus. The presence of sow thistle can also lead to nematode infestation by Radopholus similis, which can attack neighboring crops.

Moiben Solutions for Control

Chemical Control

In areas where weed growth is undesirable, chemical herbicides can be used. Effective herbicides for controlling sow thistle include:

  • Catapult 480 SL: A non-selective herbicide. Mix 200ml of Catapult 480 SL in 20 liters of water. For established perennial sow thistle weeds, increase the application rate to 250ml per 20 liters for better results.
  • Hurricane 200 SL: Apply 100ml of Hurricane 200 SL in 20 liters of water.
  • Wembe 200 SL: Follow the provided instructions to apply Wembe 200 SL to sow thistle plants. It quickly penetrates the foliage and disrupts vital processes.
Crop-Specific Solutions

For cropped areas, specific herbicides can be used based on the type of crop:

  • Grass family crops (e.g., maize, millet, sorghum): Use Agromine 860 SL at a rate of 100ml per 20 liters of water.
  • Wheat and barley farms: Apply Digester Super 69 EW at a rate of 50ml per 20 liters of water.
  • Carrot farms: Control sow thistle with Hotline 450 SC at a rate of 50ml per 20 liters of water.
  • Onion farms: Commander 240 EC effectively controls the weed at a rate of 50ml per 20 liters of water.

Non-Chemical Techniques

In addition to chemical control, non-chemical techniques like tillage and uprooting can be incorporated to manage sow thistle.


Sow thistle is a prevalent and problematic weed in Kenya, with a wide distribution and the ability to outcompete crops. Understanding its characteristics, ecological requirements, and disadvantages to crops is crucial for effective control. Green life solutions, including chemical control and non-chemical techniques, can be employed to manage sow thistle and mitigate its impact on agricultural productivity.

Add your comment