Caught in a bind? How to kill this obnoxious weed

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—A cluster of white bindweed flowers bloom in a field covered with the weed as it encroaches on a mancured suburban lawn on Estates Boulevard.

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Bindweed vines climb a fence post on the north end of town.

A distinction should be made between noxious and obnoxious weeds.

Noxious weeds are the non-native species, the invasive, aggressive weeds that bully native plants, threaten ecosystems and demand immediate and decisive eradication.

Obnoxious weeds are all that, plus they make you want to tear your hair out and buy Agent Orange off the Internet.

This means you, field bindweed.

Of all the scourges of summer, perhaps none is so rotten, so pernicious, so frustrating and so very, very obnoxious as bindweed. It is insidious. It grows miserably fast. It spreads like liquid and consumes entire fields. It refuses to JUST DIE ALREADY.

“It’s like cheat grass,” said Dennis Hill, Bookcliff Gardens manager. “You will never get rid of it. It’s probably the most prevalent aggravating weed people find in their yards, and digging is futile, futile, futile.”

From the Colorado Department of Agriculture, a reason to crawl into a corner and weep: “Field bindweed seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 40 years.”

Also: “Field bindweed is an extremely difficult noxious weed to control because, in part, of its taproot that may go 20 feet deep into the soil.”

And who hasn’t been there, trying to pull a bindweed and the root just keeps coming. Carefully, carefully, don’t break it, keep pulling and it just keeps coming up. You expect that someone in China is tugging at the other end. And then, inevitably, it breaks. Crud. Now it’s a weed that’ll just grow back.

Perhaps surprisingly — to the non-horticulturist layperson, anyway — bindweed is only a List C species under the Colorado Noxious Weed Act. A List A species is one that the Colorado agriculture commissioner has designated for eradication, while a List C species is one that the commissioner has given local jurisdictions authority to deal with. It’s not so noxious, like an African rue or tansy ragwort, that it has to go. It’s just… obnoxious.

“(Bindweed) is just ubiquitous,” said Steve Anthony, Garfield County vegetation manager. “The genie’s out of the bottle on that one.”

Bindweed is spread across the western U.S. It grows out and up. Park your bike outside too long and bindweed will twist around the tire spokes. Bindweed winds around yucca, it chokes daisies, it conquers fences, it consumes gardens. Pulling it is a useless, Sisyphean task. Calling it “wild morning glory” is delusional and a little sad.

“You’ve got to spray,” Hill said. “Pulling or digging may work, but you have to be so vigilant, so persistent, so consistent for two or three years to deprive it of the foliage it needs to feed the underground root system and eventually starve it to death.

“Or you could spray. The things that work on bindweed are broadleaf-type weed killers.”

Hill recommended herbicides such as Weed Free Zone, which are combinations of three or four broadleaf weed killers. Anthony advised applying them in autumn after the first frost when the bindweed are retreating underground and will take the herbicides with them down to the roots. However, he also advised consulting a horticulturist or county weed manager before applying herbicide, because the bindweed’s location can affect how much or what type of herbicide should be used, as it could affect other plants.

The key in dealing with bindweed, Anthony said, is patience. It’s not a problem that will be solved in a day, or ever, perhaps. It just requires vigilance and persistence.

And, of course, a will to resist the napalm.


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