The Q&A Archives: Perennial Vining Weed

Question: A perennial vining weed is threatening my vegetable garden. This has a heart-shaped leaf, spreads through white underground rhizomes, and is very profuse - it seems that it can cover an area or a plant in a matter of days. If the vines are pulled out where they grow from the ground, they break off without ever affecting the root. The root can be dug out but also breaks off very easily. If even an inch long piece is left in the ground it starts a whole new plant. Herbicides such as roundup just kill the shoot that's sprayed - in a week or two a new shoot emerges from the same spot. The root grows in diameter and becomes rather knobby. Help! How can I get rid of this?

Answer: Sounds as though you're dealing with field bindweed. Bindweed spreads from seeds and roots, but it's the roots that cause the most problems. Like quackgrass, every piece of root left in the soil after tilling can sprout a new plant. There's no easy way to get rid of it. There are, however, ways to control bindweed without using herbicides. Bindweed is resilient. The only way to beat it is to deplete energy reserves stored in its roots. This means removing every last trace of the plant, waiting 10 days or so and doing it again, and again, as many times as necessary. Pull sprouts by hand or use a long-handled hoe or weeder. Another strategy is thorough cultivation and then covering as much of the area as possible with black plastic. Even bindweed will eventually die if deprived of light. Some organic gardeners faced with aggressive weeds use flamers, or propane torches on long handles. Several kinds made for gardeners are commercially available. Whichever method you use, be consistent. It might take three growing seasons to remove bindweed from your garden.

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