Community Gardens: Field Bindweed - Convolvulus arvensis

bindweed amidst lettuces
I like to joke with my coworkers that my official title with Garden City Harvest is Quackgrass Manager instead of Community Garden Coordinator.  I took on quackgrass as my personal nemesis, with my life goal being to find something productive to do with its roots (like weave baskets).  I even put a spin on a Black Eyed Peas song rhyming “What you gonna do with all that quackgrass, all that quackgrass inside that plot.“  Now I’m realizing that community gardens have a much more serious enemy and quackgrass pales by comparison.  Dealing with quackgrass is relatively straightforward, the process of management is simple.  Bindweed not so much.

Field bindweed in a community garden setting is no laughing matter.  Currently, bindweed exists in almost every one of Garden City Harvest’s community garden.  In 2011, I noticed a small patch of bindweed alongside the asphalt at the Garden of Eaton parking lot.  I knew it was just a matter of time before we saw it in the garden.  To my dismay, last week Flynn and I were cleaning out an abandoned plot and there it was, arrowhead leaves, delicate root system… bindweed.

bind weed with partial root system

Field bindweed has some alarming qualities that make it absolutely necessary for community gardeners to manage the weeds inside their plots.  Like quackgrass, new field bindweed plants readily grow from broken roots.  The roots run up to 15’ deep and are fragile making the plant hard to pull by hand, or even dig. Apparently, bindweed seeds remain viable for more than 50 years.  Yikes!

Once bindweed has established itself, it’s very hard to eradicate due to it’s intricate and extensive root system. The Montana Weed Control Association says “the prevention of new infestations is the cheapest and easiest method of control.” To do this, actively dig out new seedlings including their root systems.  For established weeds, constantly dig out as much of as possible.  Never let the weed develop a flower or go to seed.  Densely plant your crops to help shade out and compete with the bindweed.  Experiment with covering beds with black plastic/weed fabric and plant into the black

Weed fabric over section of Flagship garden plot where field bindweed is pervasive. I'm planning to heavily mulch or plant an annual cover crop in the pathway. Photo By Linda Sliter

plastic by cutting holes just large enough to plant.  This method might save you some sanity, but is only effective if left in place for several years.  This year at Meadow Hill I’m covering a section of the Flagship plot with black plastic then planting warm weather crops like tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants into it.  It might save me some effort and the crops like the extra heat provided by the black plastic/fabric.

So community gardeners, don’t be charmed by bindweed’s vining nature or fooled by it’s pretty white flower.  Not sure how to identify bindweed in your garden plot?  Here are some defining characteristics:

  • alternating arrowhead shaped leaves
  • trumpet, funnel, bell shaped flowers ~1” in diameter
  • flowers are white and sometimes tinted light pink
  • extensive root systems that grow laterally and vertically (up to 15’ deep!)
  • perennial weed
  • in the morning glory family (again don’t be the community gardener that’s boasting about the pretty white flower climbing up your pea trellis)

bindweed in the ground

My greatest fear is when quackgrass starts to develop qualities like bindweed.  Then we’re in some real trouble!