Thursday, November 18, 2010

The War Against Bindweed

When you purchase a new home there is only so much time to take in the details of the house and property.  The aspects you love will jump out at you and probably a few things that need fixing.  But there are many things that you don't notice at all.  And I definitely didn't notice that bindweed was thriving all around our property.

I've seen bindweed before but I've never had a problem with it in my garden.  Well, it seems my time has come.  For those of you who aren't familiar, let me introduce you to Bindweed, or Convolvulus.  Bindweed has a couple of forms including Field Bindweed and Hedge Bindweed.  For all intents and purposes they are essentially the same thing, with one being slightly larger than the other.  Bindweed is a perennial vine closely resembling a morning glory.  The plants creep along the ground pulling themselves up any plant that will support them, sending twining stems around and around.  Eventually they form dense mats around other plants that choke and suffocate them to their demise.  The flowers tend to be white or pink and the leaves are triangular or arrow shaped.
Bindweed blooms look like morning glory and have distinctive arrow shaped leaves.
This invasive weed was introduced from Europe and has spread rapidly throughout North America.  It spreads via long lasting seeds that can remain dormant for up to 20 years and also by thick rhizomes.  The rhizomes contain buds along their length that can turn into shoots when they break away from the main root.  Bindweed rhizomes are extremely brittle and break easily so it can be a tricky situation as each portion of the root that is broken away can transform itself into a whole new plant.

I'm not a big weeder by nature.  I love all plants and often weeds are extremely beneficial to insects and other wildlife.  I'm also lazy.  So weeds tend to be a normal part of my garden.  But in this case I'm seriously against bindweed.  It is incredibly destructive to other plants, forming great mats and preventing air and sunlight from penetrating the plants laying underneath this vine.  Recently I've been even more rattled by the fact that this insufferable beast of a weed is trying to make itself at home in my compost bin.  The bin is located next to the hedgerow, which I didn't realize until too late, has bindweed growing though it.  Over the course of the summer the bindweed tried to cross from the hedge and twine itself around my bin.  Frustrated I cut a one foot swath around the bin and I regularly go in and pull the vine to thwart its attempts to make itself at home.

But I hadn't thought about the fact that bindweed spreads by roots.  Recently we've had a spell of warmish weather and I decided to work at cleaning up a compost pile started last winter.  It's in the same location as my compost bin, next to the hedge.  And over the course of the summer the weeds have practically been jumping out of the hedgerow and clambering onto that luscious compost.  That includes the bindweed which I've been hand pulling off the top of the pile.  So I began the work scooping up this compost and placing it in beds when to my horror I found this.

As I dug through the pile I began to find huge pieces of bindweed roots.  Not only had the plant tried to jump on top of the pile but it also sent its roots out underneath it.  There's a mass of roots hiding in my compost pile!  The pile has been a slow compost and not hot so the roots have survived quite happily there.  Although frankly I wouldn't even trust bindweed in a hot compost.  This stuff is just too prolific to take a chance.  Now some people might have said to heck with it and abandoned the compost but it's a prescious commodity around here and the fact is that no matter where I put the compost the bindweed will go with it.  The best course is to remove the offending plant and its roots.  So I've been spending rather copious amounts of time lately sifting compost, shovelful by shovelful, and pulling out the roots of bindweed as I go. 

The good news is that the roots are pretty hard to miss.  Once you've seen them you'll always know.  They can get to be as thick as a pencil and are a bright white.  Their most distinguishing characteristic has got to be how brittle they are.  They snap instead of bending.  Of course this means you have to be careful to not break them and be very very careful to pick out each and every piece.  I think I did a pretty good job of sifting but I'll be keeping a close eye on my compost in spring to see if any plants spring up.

 The above pile of roots has been placed in a brown bag in the garage where they will dry out over the winter and hopefully die before being taken off to the garbage where they belong.


  1. We have a bindweed problem here and it is difficult to eradicate. What a chore to have it in the compost pile. Good luck.

  2. Wow, what a lot of work. I am going to be looking for that very carefully when I am back at Crofters Lane next summer!

  3. Oh the battles you will have. It won't end, but you can make a dent. We have our scourges down here too (bittersweet, poison ivy, etc.), and I spend the time and effort you do to eradicate them, only to find they keep proliferating. Good luck and keep at it!

  4. GardenWalk - The upside is that at least the compost is easy to dig through and remove the plants and roots. Where the bindweed grows through the spruce hedge I have no hope of ever removing all the roots.

    Jane - There are many weeds here are on our property but generally they aren't invasive. The only two I have an issues with are the bindweed and climbing nightshade (bittersweet). Both plants climb up through other plants and trees, eventually covering them. Both also drop a lot of seeds. They're almost impossible to eradicate but keeping them under control is a good idea.

    Laurrie - I agree, it's highly unlikely I will ever eradicate this stuff but I do hope to keep it from spreading. I can see already it will be a constant battle to keep it out of the trees that form a hedge between ourselves and our neighbour.

  5. Yuck, invasive weeds are the worst things. In my garden hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) and horsetail (Equisetum arvense) are my nightmare invasive weeds.

  6. Oh Marguerite! I have bindweed too, what a brat it is!! Maybe this will help>I learned in my soils class that weeds can be indicators of soil nutrient content and if you change what's in your soil you may have a chance at killing or at least discouraging a particular weed. Bindweed: very low Ca and P, very high K and Mg, low humus, poor residue decomposition and good drainage. Correcting materials: Ca, Cu, Mo, vitamin B12 and C. Maybe that will work?? Could use your compost as a test pile??

  7. It sure looks like is hard to deal with. I hope you get it tamed

  8. Good luck! Fortunately, we don't have a bindweed problem, but we do have kudzu, boston ivy, and bamboo, any of which would be happy to engulf our home and garden if we let it. There is no hope to completely get rid of them; we just beat them back every year.

  9. I have never seen bindweed or heard of it but it sounds a lot more destructive than morning glory (which I am kind of partial of).

    Good to see you tending the mulch pile. One day you may get me to start one.

  10. Thank goodness we do not have binweed here, as I am already battling several other invasive weeds. You must have been heartbroken to have discovered luxuriating it in your compost bin. At least the roots are fairly large and easy to spot. You have my sympathies! Have a great weekend. Jennifer

  11. Melanie - I haven't had to deal with horsetail but I've certainly heard about it. I think, much like bindweed, eradicating the root system is incredibly difficult.

    Seablush, that is a fantastic idea!! I have heard the same thing about weeds being indicators of soil content but I wasn't aware of what conditions bindweed was partial to. From the apple trees I realized our soil was calcium deficient so this makes good sense. A bit late to do anything this year but I can't wait to start working in this direction next spring. Thank you!

    Fer - Taming is about as far as you can get I think. Something I'll have to learn to live with to a degree.

    Deb - oh goodness me, kudzu is horrific from what I've seen. Literally can engulf your house. It makes my bindweed problem look so minimal by contrast.

    Cheri - I admit I actually love morning glories and will likely plant some in the future. They reseed quite freely as well but are annual plants here and not invasive. Once you compost you'll never go back, your plants will just love you for it.

    Jennifer - Seems no matter where you live there's an invasive weed trying to take over. I was definitely frustrated when I discovered the bindweed and considered dumping the compost in a back corner somewhere but then I realized, I would only spread the problem further by doing that. Removing the roots had to be done but as you say, they're easy to spot so all is not lost.

  12. Hi Marguerite...When I was very young and new to gardening...I found this little "flower" that I thought was a mini morning glory. I knew that I hadn't planted any seeds and wondered how it got there. I put a little trellis there in hopes that it would climb up. My neighbor had a friend over and they called across the yard...wondered if I would like some company. When the lady saw the little "morning glory" she said, "Why are you taking such good care of Bindweed?" She then told me all about this weed and we pulled it out of my garden together.I had trouble with it coming back every year.

  13. Balisha - What a funny story! This reminds me of when my mother visited this summer. She commented on the beautiful 'morning glories' and wasn't it great that they were already there on the property when we moved in!

  14. Just had a day of destruction following the trail of white roots amongst my front flower beds, and know I still have more to catch. Its strangley reassuring to see someone else equally annoyed by the sneaky suffocater that snuck in with what I thought was lovely horse manure. Hope you get it all. Kind regards