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Buried in Bindweed

September 9, 2010

Bindweed flower in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) When I left Gettysburg in May 2009 for my year-long sabbatical, I had made arrangements to sublet my rented townhouse to a tenant who would live in the house and take care of the garden. But within weeks after I left for Maine, the sublet arrangement fell through, leaving my garden untended and neglected for 14 months. No weeding, no watering, no mulching, no spring or fall clean-up.

I think part of the reason I was so sad to leave my Maine garden in August (see Such Sweet Sorrow) was my dread of what I would find in Gettysburg. In particular, I was worried that I would find my garden totally buried in bindweed. Bindweed is a common name for many species of the genus Convolvulus, which looks like a cousin of the morning glory and moonflower vines (Ipomoea). I’m not sure what species of Convolvulus we have growing here, possibly C. arvensis, but its sweet, pale pink flowers could almost convince you that this is a desirable plant. The plant’s common name, bindweed, tells the true story, though; this is a rampantly growing perennial vine that strangles and smothers anything in its path.

Bindweed given free rein (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)My next door neighbor, a busy single mother with no time to garden, encourages the bindweed as a kind of instant garden. Those are it’s arrow-shaped leaves, growing all over the small trellis (which used to be home to a climbing hydrangea) and the bicycle that I’m guessing her daughter has outgrown. My front flower bed begins just to the left of the trellis, and you can see that the bindweed doesn’t recognize the property line. It is covering most of the bare ground and competing for space with my plants. But this is not as bad as I had feared; you can still see some bare ground and other plants. The last time I was away on sabbatical, I came back to find all my plants buried under bindweed vines several feet deep. Two years ago, after only three months in Maine, I returned to find that the bindweed had grown all the way across my flower bed and up my front door! I think I may have been saved this year by a very dry summer that apparently created a less hospitable environment for this weed.

I will never completely eradicate the bindweed here, but I can keep it under control by cutting it back to the ground at every opportunity. This fall, I intend to replace some of the plants that used to grow in this flower bed but that were strangled by the bindweed. Bindweed just starting to establish a foothold (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)In spring, when Convolvulus first starts to come up, I’ll pick a day when the ground is soft after a rain and dig up its roots wherever I can find them. I also need to pull it up in a flower bed at the back of the house, where the leaves of bindweed can be seen just starting to insinuate themselves among the hostas, geranium, and daylilies.  At this point, though, I am grateful that my garden is not completely buried in bindweed.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2010 10:09 am

    The bindweed menace is very much a part of my garden too. Especially during the monsoons when just about anything that can grow, will. And those that grow like the bindweed, conquer.

    • September 11, 2010 8:21 pm

      Sunita, I had no idea that bindweed was a menace in your part of the world, too. Your comment about it being particularly bad during the monsoons reinforces my belief that what saved me this year was the extremely dry weather. I can only imagine what this plant will do when it’s hot and wet! you have my sympathies.

  2. September 9, 2010 10:31 am

    oh Jean, I’m sorry you have to deal with this culprit. But oh so glad it hasn’t gotten out of control for you. I’m only beginning to learn the horrors of bindweed here on our property and boy is it ugly. I could spend every day pulling weeds and never get rid of this awful stuff. To make matters worse it’s trying to climb into my compost bin. The nerve!

    • September 11, 2010 8:27 pm

      Oh gosh, Marguerite, just what you don’t need is compost that spreads (and nourishes) bindweed! I’m guessing that what we both have is C. arevensis, which is the only species of Convolvulus listed in the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States. Apparently it is particularly a problem for farmers, and I can imagine it trying to colonize all those PEI potato fields. Because my garden here is very small, I have found that I can get it under control pretty quickly once I get in there and start cutting it back and pulling it up. I have to be particularly vigilant about the tendrils coming off that trellis next to my flower bed; one year I removed all the bindweed from the trellis, and that was when I found out that my neighbor liked it! So all I can do now is keep cutting it back to the trellis and try to keep it from taking root in my flower bed.

  3. September 9, 2010 11:22 am

    Bindweed is a tenacious little plant … it is easy to pull out but as you say Jean … It will be hard to be rid of for good. The bike must miss its little tyke or maybe it likes becoming part of the garden. ;>)) Good luck with your new school year.

  4. September 9, 2010 9:09 pm

    I sympathize with you about the bindweed problem. One of my client’s has a similar situation and we are now on year three of trying to stunt its growth. Good Luck both with this weed and the new semester.

  5. September 9, 2010 11:16 pm

    We’ve been working for seven years to eradicate bindweed from our half acre. While it isn’t completely gone, we seem to be in control. We spray the crown with Round-up each time one dares to creep into our garden. We’ve had only a handful plants this year, when once our property was covered, but only because of our diligence. I should mention that bindweed is the only reason I would ever buy Round-up. Fall is the best time to spray bindweed as the plant is storing nutrients into the roots to survive the cold winter, so the round-up will make it deep down into the roots as well.

    Hope all is well with school, Jean, and glad you are settling in.

    • September 11, 2010 8:42 pm

      Carol, Allan and Meredehuit, I’m sorry to hear that you are all familiar with the bindweed problem. I suspect that the plant we have all experienced is C. arvensis. Apparently, its roots grow very deep; and according to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, its seeds can survive for decades in the soil.

      Meredehuit, I’m lucky to have a small garden here where I can keep this under control with diligence, so I haven’t had to resort to chemicals. I do know, though, that spraying is just about the only way to have a hope of eradicating this plant.

      Thank you all for your wishes for the school year. The adjustment to the long working hours has been tough, but I have some wonderful students and we have already had some really invigorating class discussions.

  6. September 9, 2010 11:17 pm

    Ahhh, you got saved by the dry summer and I got saved by the cool summer. Isn’t it wonderful when the weather cooperates just once?

    • September 11, 2010 8:45 pm

      Town Mouse, I am grateful to have been saved by the dry weather — even if it does mean that the daylilies that I would normally have blooming at this time of year have already given up for the season. It has turned fallish here in the past couple of days, with daytime highs in the 70s and overnight lows in the 50s — what in Maine we consider perfect summer weather — so, even though we need rain, I’m happy.

  7. sequoiagardens permalink
    September 10, 2010 12:43 am

    It took me years to realise that the dreaded bindweed that British and American gardeners talk of is the same plant we call Morning Glory – usually a deep purple-blue here. A nuisance, but hardly a pain. That always makes me wonder: do we have worse weeds, and so downplay bindweed, or is it just not as at home here? The fact that your neighbour sees it as ‘instant garden’ makes me think the latter, for many lazy SA gardeners also see it as instant garden. I know that snails truly en masse I saw for the first time in a London garden. What we would have described as a plague was nothing compared to that! And so gardening differs…

  8. September 10, 2010 6:18 am

    Goodness Jean! Convolvulus is sold as a desireable cottage plant here and I have it in my garden! It just goes to show doesn’t it, just what a difference location and climate can make, because it is a fairly tame and slow growing groundcover here. I guess it could be a less vigorous variety as what I have is a deeper purple with a smaller leaf. Still, I might just go and quickly look it up, as I don’t want to end up with blackberry MkII on my hands!

    • September 11, 2010 9:41 pm

      Jack and Heidi, I’m wondering how much the difference between your Convolvulus experience and mine is one of climate and conditions and how much it is that we are dealing with very different species of the same genus. Apparently, there are hundreds of species of Convolvulus, so maybe you have much better behaved species available where you are.

  9. thevioletfern permalink
    September 10, 2010 8:34 am

    I have bind weed with white flowers growing on my chain link fence. If I had to choose between looking at the chain link fence or the bindweed, the bindweed wins. Although, I know I’m going to regret it when I begin planting things there. I will be looking to dig up those roots come spring. The grapes are growing in and can replace the bindweed – that is, some of the bindweed. Look forward to hearing more about your townhouse garden.

  10. September 10, 2010 3:44 pm

    Hi Jean! I am glad that it did not cover your front door! Its flowers are sure pretty! I feel the same about my vinca minor. I can not get rid of it, but I try to keep it under control.

    • September 11, 2010 8:56 pm

      VF, I’ve found that if bindweed is in a relatively contained area (like my 5′ x 3′ front flower bed), it’s not that hard to keep under control. It often turns out that what seems like tons of it, is all emanating from only a few root crowns. It can be very satisfying to start pulling on those long vines and find yourself removing armfuls of the stuff. If it’s rooted all along your fence, it will be a bigger job.

      Tatyana, The year I found it grown up the front door was kind of scary! I felt like I was dealing with some kind of mutant monster plant!

  11. September 10, 2010 6:45 pm

    Jean: I understand the trials and tribulations of being a transit gardener. We are not away from our New Hampshire for long periods of time and that we have under control. Our Florida gardens on the other hand we are away from for longer periods. The neighbors tell us all is well but we don’t really know until we get there. So the Guessing game goes on all the time. Some times a neighbor will actually go and water or weed a little. For the most part they all tell us everything looks good and ask us how do we get plants to grow like that. I won’t tell that my secret is compost and we have tried to select plants that will survive the conditions. Every time we go to Florida for a few days we clean things up replacing whats not doing good or has overgrown and planting something new to try.

    As avid gardeners we just roll with the punches and when we are in Florida we garden in Florida and when we are in NH we garden in NH. Doing whatever it takes to create the gardens we are looking for and enjoying it all the way.

    I don’t believe I just said all that, a year or so ago I was lucky to create a 5 word comment. Good luck with your Gettysburg Garden I am sure you will get great pleasure and enjoyment out of whatever you do and then when you return to Maine you will have similar situations and will enjoy taking care of them.

    Enjoy your gardens,

    • September 11, 2010 9:01 pm

      John, Congratulations on writing such a long comment ;-). As I was thinking about your observations about your two gardens, I realized that I don’t have as much of myself invested in this garden as in my Maine garden. It’s not just that this is a smaller garden. I also haven’t put as much thought and effort into garden design here, and I don’t have names for the various flower beds here. But I do love the way that having a more southerly garden extends the garden season for me at both ends. (That must be even more true for you in Florida.)

  12. September 11, 2010 7:53 am

    Thought you might interested in an interactive version of the USDA hardiness zone map covering Maine at
    that may be a vauluabe resource for your readers.

    • September 11, 2010 9:18 pm

      Al, Thanks for sending the link to the maps. I noted, too, that this is available for every area of the United States.

  13. September 11, 2010 2:07 pm

    Jean – the picture of that sweet little girl’s bike, covered in bindweed, is a bit sad & melancholy – like ‘years gone by’. That delicate flower is so deceptive – wow.

    Good luck extracting the ‘menace’! –Shyrlene

  14. September 11, 2010 4:24 pm

    Wish that bicycle could be passed on to a littler girl – it still looks shiny and good to go?

    • September 11, 2010 9:21 pm

      Shyrlene, Yes, the lovely looking flower is deceptive; I wish I could convince my neighbor of that. On the plus side, though, I spent two hours out in the garden today, pulling up bindweed and doing some other clean-up chores, and it really made a dramatic difference.

      Diana, I have a feeling passing this bicycle along to someone else is just low on the priority list of this busy single mother.

  15. September 12, 2010 11:25 am

    Oh, I was sad to see weeds in the place of a climbing hydrangea. They are such classy vines, I’d do everything in my power to hold onto mine if I had one. But I know, realistically, that not all people garden or have time for that work, and so it can’t be helped.

    Those flowers are *lovely* so I know I’ve never encountered bindweed before, because I would remember them, I’m sure, and especially if they were attached to a nemesis plant that kills other things (sounds nightmarish, frankly).

    The dry summer indeed seems to have worked to your advantage, Jean. Only sorry that I cannot say the same. 😉

    p.s. Thank you for your understanding and sympathy. Your kindness meant a lot.

  16. September 13, 2010 8:20 am

    I have been trying to come up with a “lazy” way of defeating bindweed, but I’m afraid all attempts have failed. I’ll just have to keep bending my back!

  17. September 13, 2010 12:13 pm

    Bindweed can be no end of frustration in the garden. It was a constant battle at our last house to keep it out of our borders. You’re smart to wait until your soils are soft from the rains, it makes pulling the thugs in the garden so much easier!

  18. September 14, 2010 5:24 pm

    yuck. What a pain. I have a hard time keeping up with the morning glory, but at least I get some gorgeous flowers to look at if I can’t get out there.

    I didn’t even notice the bike at first all climbing with bindweed!

  19. September 14, 2010 7:33 pm

    aloha jean,

    oh what fun, i cannot tell you how many plants everyone considers exciting and tropical for their gardens but are truly invasive here like lantana, all ferns including tree ferns, passion flowers, gingers, various heliconias, the list goes on and on…i’m beyond controlling many of these now…oh well 🙂

  20. September 14, 2010 8:20 pm

    Your post is a perfect example of the damage the wrong type of plant can do. Some types of Convolvulus are not even sold in Arizona although there are two kinds that do great. Beautiful flowers can certainly make us think that a plant is okay to have in the garden….your post is a great reminder to be careful 🙂

  21. Braedon permalink
    April 12, 2011 1:13 am

    Its a huge pest here in New Zealand also. I spray it twice a year with my grandads ‘special mix’ to keep it under a little ‘control’, Ive also had it smother and kill full grown peach and gum trees. It is horrible stuff.

    • April 14, 2011 12:14 pm

      Braedon, Thanks for visiting. I didn’t realize that there were species of Convolvulus that were also invasive in New Zealand. There are several species (of which C. arvensis is the most notorious) that are invasive in the United States. On the other hand, other species of this genus are sold as desirable garden plants in Australia, and some are listed as endangered in parts of Europe.

  22. Marduk permalink
    October 5, 2016 9:07 am

    I have no issue with bindweed easy to kill, in flowerbeds etc. Just get a small jar, like a baby food jar . Mix double strength glyphosate fill jar. Bend or curl as much of the vine as you can and put in in the jar. Bindweed has a large root, so with this method the plant constantly draws chemical to the root, and kills it outright. A simple spray is not sufficient, if the vine is older and has an extensive root. It will come back again. Find as many of the vines you can, and they can even grow under a driveway to other side. So look around, find all those vines and give them a soak!

    • October 5, 2016 10:42 pm

      This is useful information for those who use chemicals in their gardens. I am an organic gardener and am not willing to use glyphosate.

      • Marduk permalink
        October 6, 2016 11:24 am

        Hi Jean. Sorry to hear as sunlight, eggs, coffee tea etc. Are proven far more toxic than Glyphosate. U see everything including yourself are simply chemicals, and like weeds or medications, U have most probably already adapted to it a decade ago.😊

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