If I Could Only Think of it as a Mini Morning Glory

I’ve been weeding in my garden in the evenings, trying to get it ready for spring planting and I’ve decided that there is one weed that I hate above all others. Bindweed is the bane of my gardening existence. If you are unfortunate enough to have this weed in your yard, you know how difficult it can be to eliminate.

The origin of this plant is unclear but it is thought to have migrated to the plains from Russia in the oats and wheat that were brought by immigrants when they came to this country. Also discovered in Virginia in 1739, bindweed is widely considered to be one of the most destructive and invasive weeks found in gardens and fields.

Bindweed is aptly named because once it is established it will grow over and on just about anything. I’ve seen it wrapped around my roses once when they were thick and lush and I missed removing it from around their base when I was weeding. One statistic I found claims that it can reduce grain crop yields by 20-50% and vegetable crops by 50-80%. It has also been known to “bind” up farming equipment so it is not a plant to be ignored.

It’s fairly easy to identify and if you’ve ever grown morning glories, you know that the flower resembles a smaller version. It has small white or pink flowers, small arrow shaped leaves, and it creeps along staying close to the soil until it finds something to climb up and around. Often it resembles a mat on the ground. It’s a perennial, which means it comes back year after year from the same root system. Since it grows from both seeds and roots, and the seeds can remain in the soil and viable for up to 30 years, it can be practically impossible to eliminate once it becomes established. Even a very small piece of root in your garden is enough to give it a hold and soon it will spread rapidly, growing up to ten feet each growing season. Since it competes for water with desirable crops, be they either field crops or ornamentals, it’s important to get it under control, especially in a dry year.

Controlling bindweed can be a full time job, and there are several methods to try, but patience and vigilance are two things you’ll definitely need in your fight against this obnoxious weed.

The obvious method for removal would be to pull it by hand, however this isn’t always a great idea. Since it’s almost impossible to get the entire root system when you pull it by hand, it will simply send more runners underground to sprout up somewhere else. It’s similar to aspen trees in this regard and it’s how bindweed develops a very large and healthy root system.

If you aren’t opposed to chemical controls, an application of a herbicide such as glyphosate (Roundup) may work to burn the top back, but since the roots can run down as far as three to four feet, it often doesn’t kill it. The trick is to keep the top pulled or burned back to keep the plant from photosynthesizing so that it will eventually starve and die. 

Another chemical that can be used is a product called Weed Free Zone. This can be applied in cool temperatures as well as when it’s hot. Although it will kill the above ground growth fairly quickly, it won’t always translocate down to kill the total root system. One of the big deterrents for using chemical controls is that they aren’t selective, meaning they may also damage other desirable plants in the vicinity of your problem bindweed, especially if it is windy and they drift.

If you prefer an organic method, you can try boiling water to burn the top off. If you try this, be sure to pour the boiling water as far out from the plant as 2-3′ in order to get as much of the underground root system as possible, taking care not to burn other desirable plants in the vicinity.

A mixture of vinegar, Epsom salts and dish detergent is another favorite among organic gardeners although I don’t recommend it. Vinegar’s acidic properties will affect the green growth of any plants around where it’s applied, and although it will kill off the bindweed above ground, this too won’t touch the underground roots or seeds. It can also change the pH. Epsom salts will also lower the pH. The dishwashing liquid is usually added as a spreader sticker and although it will work to coat the surface of the leaves eventually suffocating them, it can also smother leaves of other nearby plants. All of these may also harm other good bugs and earthworms which you want to keep in your garden.

No matter which method of attack you choose, patience, persistence, and vigilance will be the key to keeping this weed under control. The best success will come from repeated applications of the control of your choice, or hand weeding on a regular basis. However, once bindweed has established itself in your garden, your efforts in eliminating it will most likely be ongoing.

I keep telling myself that if I could only think of it as a miniature morning glory, perhaps I wouldn’t mind it so much… but I’m not there yet.