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Use bindweed as a green mulch or stop it while it's small?

 
Posts: 21
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
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We're on a tenth of an acre in suburbia with no topsoil. We've sheet mulched nearly the whole thing with arborists' wood chips. I've been adding in coffee grounds as I can get them from local gas stations, and watering with nitrogen-rich fish tank water, but growth has been pretty slow for the cover crops and wildflowers we've broadcast seeds for.

The one thing that really seems to love our yard right now is bindweed. What started out as a small patch behind our dog's sandbox is enthusiastically spreading in a roughly 30-square-foot area. My instinct is to leave it, because it's green and it shades the mulch. We're at 6500ft, and direct sunlight around here dries soil/mulch to a crisp in hours.

But I don't want to let it get such a foothold that my future garden is just one big bindweed patch. I've heard a lot of bindweed horror stories. Is a tenth of an acre small enough that I'll be able to manually remove it even if I let it spread, or should I pull it now before it gains sentience and takes over the state of Colorado?
 
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Hi Wiley,

I personally would get that bind weed out of there. I'm not sure your soil type, but I'm confident with a little research, you can find something that will grow well, yet won't be an unwelcome invasive. Have you tried drought hardy legumes like sweet clover? What about sunn hemp for a warm season crop? Like I said I'm not familiar with your climate zone or soil type, yet I'm confident nature has something better for you then bind weed.

Hope that helps!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1148
Location: Victoria BC
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Kill it with fire. It is not worth it.

Plant almost anything else instead.

It looks like a plant, but is actually a devouring monster.

Artificial shade may be worth it; I used scrap plywood on edge along fencelines at one point, with pieces sticking out at right angles. Lots of bracing to avoid wind issues.

It made a big difference, clover and weeds were very happy with some shade while the areas with zero shade on the gravelly soil grew very little and most of it nasty thistle and such.
 
pollinator
Posts: 370
Location: BC Interior, Zone 6-7
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It might depend.

In the last place I lived, I had heavy clay soil and an average of 365 mm of precipitation in the year. Bindweed could outcompete most things with it's ability to deal with the hard soil and lower moisture. Weeding only seemed to make it grow denser. Smothering did nothing - at least not on the scale we tried. It has an extensive root system so you need to do a huge area for a long time. Our neighbour used huge amounts of round up on it with not much effect (other than my increasing horror). Seeds remain viable for 20 years...or is it even 30? Long time.

Now I live in sandy soil with just over twice the yearly precipitation. Bindweed's not such a big deal here. Seedlings get overgrown pretty quickly and don't do much. I've seen it doing pretty well in neglected lawns though.

I'd make it a major priority to pull every seedling I laid eyes on no matter how wimpy it seemed, but you might be braver.
 
pollinator
Posts: 199
Location: Gulf Islands, Canada
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I have a recurring weed in my garden that I believe is bindweed and it's now my priority #1 weed to take out of the garden bed because it tries to climb up my other plants and if they're young, the bindweed will pull them down to the ground and eventually kill them.
 
pollinator
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I got bindweed in a load of topsoil many years ago.  At this point I don't think it's even possible for me to get rid of it unless I did make it a full-time job to diligently pull every single shoot multiple times a day as they come up for weeks on end until the very hearty root systems are exhausted.  So in short it's here to stay for me unless someone knows of a magic solution.  If you've got it covering a 30 sq/ft area, Wiley, I have to wonder if you have it for good too.

I've only recently become resigned to this fact, but this new acceptance has me wondering what it's benefits are.  I would have to imagine it's doing something to benefit the soil, adding organic matter through its roots if nothing else.  Since it also produces tons of green leafy matter above ground I too have been wondering about reclassifying it in my head as an excellent chop and drop green mulch.  I've noticed that when it doesn't have other stiff stemmed plants to grow up it seems to intertwine with itself as if to combine all the weak vine stems to form a rigid enough trunk to reach up higher.  At this point it becomes easier to grab the mass there where they all intertwine and pull a bunch at once.  I know it has many negative aspects, but what are some positive things with bindweed?
 
gardener
Posts: 2516
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Kill it.... with chickens!
Seriously,  it chokes everything,and is of dubious edibility.
I can't pull it off of plants without hurting them, so I just break the stems as close to the ground as I can.

Chickens will eat/scratch it to death, along with all other other annuals in reach.
I still get it growing up amidst  perennials, but not a lot.

Jerusalem artichokes might be a good soil building crop,  they are no where near as persistant as the bind weed, while still spreading like wildfire.
Alfalfa,  Austrian Winter Peas, or Cow Peas might do well in woodchips, being as they might over come any  nitrogen deficiency.
Planting sweet potato,  squash, pumpkin, or other running, viney crops into pockets of amended soil could let you cover  otherwise inhospitable woodchips with greenery.



 
pollinator
Posts: 396
Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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I tried to look at it in a positive light as well, you know, like hey it's great mulch, then i noticed that in summer spiders really like to make webs in the small spaces in between bindweed and the host plants, i thought, you see, there is a positive angle here, it creates a niche for spiders to catch insects. Until i noticed it also functions as a serious water trap attracting mildew and sorts. I haven't managed to eradicate it, but i would if i could. By pulling it whenever i pass and never letting it get to seed, which is easy , the flowers are very  visible pink/white in my case. 5-6 years on, it still pops up yearly in small isolated pockets in places where it's not densely planted. Maybe i'm lucky, maybe the white type  is more agressive but it's no big deal any more for where i am. I really like William's chicken idea, they could really dent it without too much effort.
 
pollinator
Posts: 338
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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If possible KILL IT.
 
master steward
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I'm also of the KILL IT camp. Once it gets big, it takes over like crazy. You want those roots weak and small. I've tried smothering it, and outcompeting it (with blackberrys/salmonberries which grow vertically and spread by risomes, much like bindweed), and yanking it whenever I can. I also stuck chickens where the bindweed was most prevalant, and that has stopped it from progressing beyond the chickens, though mine aren't too terribly interested in eating it. But, wherever I put down a bunch of mulch/wood chips for them to scratch, the bind weed has no chance.

The patch I smothered with plastic (I do NOT recommend that approach, as the plastic degraded into itty bitty pieces that are impossible to entirely remove), mostly killed the bindweed. I still find a few shoots and pull them as I see them. I'm not good enough to get all of the root, but by yanking every strand I see, it doesn't get that exponential growth thing that bindweed loves to do.

Bindweed for me is now no longer a smothering nightmare, but a manageable weed. I keep it that way by pulling every little booger I see.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2317
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Kill it.

if it is restricted to just a patch you are at least in some kind of luck. Ours is everywhere. A continuous battle.

It grows fast a tangles everything. It will smother your crops and is hard to chop free from other plants without damage, because of the way it twists. Look out for spreading root fragments when you dig the soil.

I find that leaving roots to dry in the sun on top of my woodchip mulch is adequate for killing them, but I regularly find roots that have grow into my compost heap. They don't survive the composting process, but grow quickly to colonise a heap as it cools off.
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I shudder any time I remember that back during my childhood, morning glories were planted from seed in the front and back yards of my house, as they were lovely and climbed the pergola so nicely.

"Keel zem. Keel zem, before eet eez too late."
-Sigmund Freud, Star Trek: The Next Generation

They loved to climb my everything, especially my tomatoes. It killed the basil growing with them. It choked out the oregano. I kept it off of the branches, but it was impossible to keep off of the main stems of my tomatoes. I left them, figuring they weren't shading out the leaves or anything, and then found out that it created the perfect conditions for mould and mildew.

I like to free them from plants I wish to try to save. Then I take my pitchfork and pretend that the nasty greenery is spaghetti. Stab, twirl, pull, repeat. Not that tasty, so I won't recommend trying it. And if you can get it before any goes to seed, bonus.

I got over it. I think everyone eventually does. There are many vining and trailing plants with pretty flowers. I would suggest one of those. And if it's living mulch that is desired, I would look to the squash family. Do you get pumpkins for halloween? Pumpkin vines have huge leaves to shade the soil or mulch. We use butternut squash because we like to eat it, and it makes a lovely soup or lentil dahl.

Good luck with your battle, especially if you decide to take the "wait and see" approach.

-CK
 
pioneer
Posts: 1244
Location: 4b
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One tip I figured out that may help someone:  Rather than yanking it off your plants and tearing them all up, just use scissors and cut the bindweed at the ground where it starts wrapping around the plant.  The part on the plant your are trying to save will just dry up and fall off on it's own.  It takes some self control, because my instinct is to grab the bindweed and tear it off :)  I've ruined good plants that way.

My bindweed went away on it's own as my soil improved.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2048
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I'm on the fence. I have it. It seems to come up anytime I dig a hole. I pull it at times but there is no way I could get rid of it all. It hasn't been a huge problem though. I have patches of it but the grass I planted is doing just fine and so yeah, not a huge issue for me. Before people tell me it will be, I'll say it's been on my berms for like 6 years so if it's going to be a huge problem it's sure taking it's time.



As far as your wood chips go it's going to take them absolute ages to decompose. I know, I live close to you. Straw would be a better mulch alternative in my opinion.  I mean I do love wood chips. I have them in my flower garden for aesthetics and weed suppression but they do nothing for my soil.
 
Wiley Fry
Posts: 21
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
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I pulled up everything I could find and put some clover seed down. I doubt it'll be the end of it, but at least it's easier to pull than Canada thistle. Thanks for the nearly-unanimous advice ^_^

As far as your wood chips go it's going to take them absolute ages to decompose. I know, I live close to you. Straw would be a better mulch alternative in my opinion.  I mean I do love wood chips. I have them in my flower garden for aesthetics and weed suppression but they do nothing for my soil.



We've been having very different results in the front yard and the back, and I definitely see what you mean. In the back, they get watered regularly with fish tank water, we have a decent amount of shade, and most of the woodchips are already nicely spongy and myceliated (mostly wild mushrooms so far but we did get a nice big Lion's Mane where we buried an exhausted indoor kit). In the front, where they get more direct sun and I don't get around to watering as often, they look basically the same as the day they came out of the chipper. It's definitely not a "set it and forget it" soil solution, but I love the forestyness (definitely a word) of being surrounded by growing mycelium.
 
pollinator
Posts: 354
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
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I'll jump in on the KILL, KILL, KILL!!! bandwagon too...

I will also add (and it hasn't been mentioned yet?) that it will grow back from a small piece. I've seen it sprout a new vine from a 1/2" root fragment.
I've had most "success" using a fork to loosen the soil before gently pulling the roots, paying close attention to if I feel a *snap* and then working again in that direction to "chase" the roots...

I would NOT compost it. (I believe our problem has worsened from either A. bindweed got put into a compost pile innocently, or B. bindweed colonized a compost pile and then got broken up and distributed unknowingly)

Burn it? Boil it? Bake it? Dry it in the sun? Pulverize it under the wheels of your car in the driveway? Put it in the garbage?
 
Trace Oswald
pioneer
Posts: 1244
Location: 4b
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:...
Burn it? Boil it? Bake it? Dry it in the sun? Pulverize it under the wheels of your car in the driveway? Put it in the garbage?



Maybe it could be dried and turned into biochar.  That would teach it :)
 
Posts: 37
Location: Denver CO
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I'm battling it in Denver, similar situation to yours but it's really managed to get it's roots everywhere on my 1/3rd acre at this point.  The other positive I've noticed is the worms seem to love it's roots.  I'll often see an irritated worm leave the hole when I pull a long root out.  At this point I have lots of thick good plants growing and they are mostly holding their own.  Now that the bindweed is starting to flower I have to prioritize pulling it again to avoid having a million new seedlings next year.

To keep it in check this year I'd try this.  Cover the area with anything light proof, tarp, cardboard, etc.  The weed will grow between the ground and tarp searching for sunlight.  After it pokes out an edge lift the tarp and pull all the white roots that are just lying on the ground.  I think getting it to bring it's reserves up to the surface is a lot easier than trying to dig it all out or taking a few inches of green plant at a time.  I'd leave the area uncovered for a few days till the little green bindweed shoots are everywhere then cover it back up.

On the topic of cover crops, I've had the best luck here with wheat and winter peas planted late august through early october, whenever we havve a cool few days for planting and watering (just till they sprout).  Most of what I planted last fall came back strong this spring and gave a pretty nice green canopy to help shade out weeds.  I planted mustard and daichon in the bare spots this spring and those are now 4ft tall and have been flowering for a month or so.  Still had to pull a ton of bindweed this spring put now it's only really thick in unused areas.  Other cover crop type plants I've had luck with are fava/bell beans, flax, lentils, chicory, oats and barley.  Good luck!
 
Just put the cards in their christmas stocking and PRESTO! They get it now! It's like you're the harry potter of permaculture. richsoil.com/cards
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