Dealing with bindweed

Posted: Monday 21 July 2014
by Adam Pasco

Bindweed is king of camouflage in the weed world. It bursts into glorious bloom during July as if to boast its presence.

Bindweed is king of camouflage in the weed world. It bursts into glorious bloom during July as if to boast its presence. “You didn’t see me … but I’m here!”

Actually, those large trumpet-shaped white flowers are really beautiful, and a match for many ‘deliberately’ grown ornamental plants, like morning glory. But I don’t want bindweed, at least not in my garden. I enjoy seeing it taking over wild, neglected sites, but despite having a soft spot for it, ultimately I consider bindweed to be an invasive thug.

It isn’t called bindweed for nothing. Its slender twisting, twining shoots spread over the ground and start climbing up any upright support they find, whether that be a plant stem, shrub, cane… anything.

Their game plan is twofold: first, to spread through the soil and consolidate their hold on the ground. Second, to reach for the sky where their flowers can attract insects to be pollinated, set seed and spread even further afield.

Yes, this is one successful weed. I’ve a wide herbaceous border at the end of my lawn choc-a-block with perennials, including phlox, astrantia, alstoemeria, scabious and geranium, and underplanted with daffodils for spring and alliums for summer flower. Bindweed has found its way in, and now it’s the devil to get out!

I regularly inspect it for any sign of its spiralling stems. If I find one, then I start the job off slowly, carefully unwinding it to try and locate its source. This is no easy task when herbaceous growth is so dense, and stems can wind their way through borders for some distance before locating a stem to climb.

Once I’ve traced it back to soil level I can cut it off, and by repeatedly doing this I’ll gradually weaken the weed. It'll take time, and there’s no guarantee of eradication.

Instead, I carefully start excavating. Bindweed grows from thick fleshy roots, but these are quite fragile and easy to break. There’s no way of pulling them out without the shoot breaking off and leaving roots in the ground. And one reason for bindweed's success is that new plants can grow from virtually any piece of root left in the soil, no matter how small.

No, you have to try and carefully scrape away soil with the tip of a trowel to expose roots, tracing them back and picking out every single piece you find. Be patient. Take your time, as the more root you remove, the less likely bindweed is to return. This is easier said than done. Those fleshy weed roots grow right into clumps of perennials, so getting them out is an invasive process.

In the past I’ve really taken the bull by the horns and completely cleared areas of border in spring, digging out every plant to track down the weeds. I’ve done the same for a variety of invasive weeds including ground elder and couch grass, too. The rootball of each plant has to be cleaned of soil to make sure no weed was hiding inside, and the cleared border dug deeply with soil sieved to try and extract even the tiniest fragment of bindweed. Finally, the cleaned perennials can be divided and young portions replanted, creating a rejuvenated weed-free border.

But it never lasts!

Chemical control is a good alternative, and for this you need to use a systemic weedkiller containing glyphosate. Now glyphosate must be used with respect, as it can polish off virtually any plant it's applied to. The active ingredient is translocated within the plants' tissue - from the leaves you apply it to, down to the roots and underground parts.

This herbicide comes in a variety of formulations, so while some people might want to completely clear ground of everything growing there, including bindweed, in my borders I need to be far more selective. By choosing a formulation like a gel I can carefully apply it to the weeds leaves, dabbing a little on each leaf, while avoiding touching anything else.

To do this effectively it helps to isolate bindweed from its neighbours. Push canes into the ground alongside any bindweed you spot and allowing the weed to use these for support. Once bindweed has grown clear of surrounding plants, you can carefully treat it with herbicide without fear of getting any on the plants you want to keep.

Don’t be tempted to pull out the weeds, but leave in place so the weedkiller can get to work. Within a few days you’ll notice the bindweed starting to wilt and die. Mission accomplished.

Other pieces of bindweed in the soil may continue sending up new shoots, so check regularly, and spot-treat any you find.

I've read that bindweed leaves and roots are edible, but have a very bitter taste. I’m not in the least interested in trying … are you?

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Talkback: Dealing with bindweed
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nuthouse23 22/07/2014 at 20:25

Hi, I've found that if I get small pop bottles and fill them up with a strong weedkiller, bury them in the soil near where the tendrils are coming up, I can put the tendrils in the bottles and they take on the weedkiller over a much longer time than just dabbing or spraying a weedkiller on them.
This stops insects, animals and children from getting to the weedkiller.

Dovefromabove 22/07/2014 at 20:29

As long as  children don't find the pop bottles filled with poison !!!  Sounds really dangerous to me!!! 

granma 22/07/2014 at 21:14

It should be alright shouldn't it ,if you bury them up to there necks and also if there are  no  children?

artjak 22/07/2014 at 21:39

It sounds wonderful; but then I don't have munchkins in my garden

Verdun 22/07/2014 at 21:51

Sounds over the top and potentially damgerous.  Not method I would use. Spraying far more effective and safer.  

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