It’s bindweed, curse it


A gardener’s life is not a happy one — at least sometimes. This year it’s been heat and drought, and now the dreaded bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).

I thought I’d gotten rid of the bindweed in my community garden plot years ago, and it took years to do it. But it’s baaack. It crept underground from my neighbor’s plot and came up in the middle of my brand-new purple asparagus patch.

Bindweed is that small-leaved, narrow-stemmed, white (or maybe pink) flowered vine that crawls up your fences, trellises and plants. It is related to morning glories, but it’s a perennial and will keep on keeping on for years and years if you don’t kill it. Its roots can reach 20 feet down into the soil and store enough food for two or three years.

So it can just come back every spring to make you crazy (and make the City Garden Contest judges mark your garden way, way down). The roots also spread 10 feet or more away from the original plant so that "new" bindweed can come up in a whole other place. That’s what happened to me.

Not only will bindweed’s roots feed it for years, but bindweed will come up from 50-year-old seeds! If you hoe it up every 10 days, you may eventually kill it by keeping it from making any food. However, if you don’t get every little piece of root out of the garden and off your hoe or weeder, the little root pieces will grow new plants. Talk about stubborn.

So, whatever can one do? Well, I finally stopped my original infestation by cutting off the green parts whenever I saw them and by keeping the path where it was growing covered in heavy black plastic, over which I kept a mulch of wood chips and sometimes salt hay. That’s great for a path but a little tough when it comes to an asparagus bed.

Even the sustainable agriculture site suggests painting it with Roundup, a weed killer that will kill any green thing you get it on. That’s why painting on the Roundup is a good idea in a home or community garden. There’s no spray to blow onto plants you want to keep.

Growing plants that will shade it a lot will weaken the bindweed. The sustainable agriculture site recommends sunflowers, squash and pumpkins. I’m not so sure about the sunflowers. My neighbor’s bindweed is growing right under her sunflowers.

Another control is painting the bindweed leaves with regular vinegar, which is 5-percent acetic acid, and also pouring it into a hole in the soil next to the plants so it gets to their roots.

The Aztecs used bindweed seeds as a hallucinogen, and bindweed extract eventually may be used as an anti-cancer drug. Every weed has a silver lining? Yeah, right!