Canada thistle is difficult to manage in organic farming systems and others with reduced reliance on herbicides. Previous field studies found that defoliation or sudangrass interference suppressed Canada thistle. Our objective was to understand the factors causing suppression of Canada thistle observed in the field. Three greenhouse studies were conducted utilizing frequency of defoliation, sudangrass interference and defoliation, and interspecific phytotoxicity to discern mechanisms of Canada thistle suppression. Increased defoliation frequency (up to four defoliations) decreased Canada thistle shoot height, shoot and root mass, and root-to-shoot ratio. Plants with larger root mass had greater shoot mass and number (r = 0.87 and 0.73, respectively), indicating a probable interdependence of root size (carbohydrate reserves), bud density, and subsequent shoot growth. In the sudangrass interference and defoliation study, Canada thistle shoot dry mass was 38.7, 2.76, and 0.39 g pot−1 in the defoliation only, sudangrass interference only, and defoliation interference surface mulch treatments, respectively. Sudangrass interference by itself was effective in suppressing thistle growth; combining interference with defoliation did not further reduce growth (2.76 and 2.83 g pot−1, respectively). In the experiment minimizing interspecific competition, we found no evidence of sudangrass having a phytotoxic effect on Canada thistle. Overall results indicate that sudangrass competition or frequent shoot removal suppresses growth of Canada thistle.
Nomenclature: Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.; sudangrass, Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench spp. drummondii (Nees ex Steud.) de Wet and Harlan.