Monday, June 23, 2014

Nightmares of Bindweed

When I first started working in the Hub gardens, I was unfamiliar with bindweed. As the weeks progressed, I heard numerous cautionary tales about this common vining plant, but we were so busy planting that the weeds were largely overlooked and bindweed remained just a mythological garden villain. Until… IT FLOWERED.

Once it flowered, it could no longer be ignored. While I was foolishly mooning over what I saw as beautiful Morning Glory−like flowers, the more seasoned gardeners saw it for what it was…. a garden emergency! Bindweed is an aggressive self-seeder and the appearance of these flowers means the bindweed is well on its way to doing just that. Since bindweed is so very difficult to eradicate due to its extreme hardiness and extensive root system (reaching up to 20ft!), it is very important to pull the plant before it gets to this point. Since the roots reach so deep, it is impossible to pull the plant without breakage, and broken bindweed root will simply propagate more bindweed! With this in mind, you can surely imagine what tilling a plot of bindweed would do. The tiller will chop up the bindweed root well enough, but that’s the last thing you want to do! Tilling a plot of bindweed will just lead to more bindweed. A truly vicious cycle!
What I once saw as just your average garden weed became Garden Enemy #1. Everywhere I looked: BINDWEED – choking the strawberries, climbing the fence, stalking the raspberry bushes and, I swear, even making a grab for my feet! Those once “beautiful” white flowers began haunting me, and I began diving for white moths in midair, mistaking them for airborne bindweed flowers! I may have briefly lost my mind but I had found my calling: bindweed eradication.
Pulling the top growth is the first step in ridding yourself of this prolific weed. Though, keep in mind that doing this just once won’t enough to get rid of it – remember those broken roots will simply produce more bindweed! Eventually though, removing the top growth will starve the plant because without the green leaves to soak up sunshine, it will be unable to photosynthesize. But even without top growth, bindweed can survive on its stored energy for quite some time. Laying down a barrier such as cardboard over the thoroughly weeded area and topping it with mulch will further hamper bindweed’s aggressive spread. It is also crucial to keep your pulled bindweed out of the compost, where it would certainly set roots and begin the vicious cycle again. Bag it up in a trash bag and get rid of it with your other waste.
 Granted, it will take a few years of fierce vigilance for this method to work. And while that may seem daunting, I can personally testify that battling bindweed can be quite a cathartic experience…and surprisingly addicting. And while after a long day of bindweed pulling you may feel like you’ve got it under control, don’t let your guard down… because the bindweed’ll getcha if you don’t watch out! -Erika Wheeler, Garden Intern


  1. such a timely and informative post. thanks for spreading the word on how to stop the spread of this noxious weed.

  2. So that's what those pretty white flowers are! Guess I'd better get out there and get rid of them.