Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

Bindweed, - definitely a problem!

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

Bindweed! Call it what you want, - and known by several other common names, - it is a problem to many people. From the large wheat farmer to the residential homeowner with a small garden, bindweed has made itself a reputation throughout much of North America as a problem, which often times is very difficult, if not impossible, to be dealt with and controlled.

Convolvulus arvensis, as it is known scientifically, was first recognized in Virginia in 1739 apparently arriving to this continent via a contaminated crop from Europe where it is native. The rest is history. It has since made itself unwelcomed throughout much of temperate North America.

"How can I treat it?", is a question often voiced by concerned landowners. It historically was viewed as a menace to farmers as it invaded large acres of cropland and choked out the planted crop. But today, with more and more land being settled by small ranchettes and rural housing lots, bindweed is being viewed for the first time by people who have not encountered the troublesome weed. Their desire to control it results in loss of profit and unsuccess along with added headache and heartache.

First, the bad news. The plant reproduces by seed, rhizomes, sprouting from its roots, and who knows by what other means. A two or three year food supply can be stored in the underground root system of the plant. The roots also have been known to grow up to five meters deep in the soil. All of this adds to a combined effort of the bindweed plant to be able to grow exactly where it wants to make its presence known. More bad news, - the seeds produced by the plant have been known to stay viable in the soil for up to forty years!

It is commonly stated with a measurable amount of emphatic opinion that bindweed cannot be killed. However, its growth can be hindered and affected by treating the plant using various registered chemicals available on the market but must be followed up repeatedly. Using a hoe, getting on your hands and knees and pulling out the plant, or covering the plant with plastic has zero effect. It seems all this mechanical tillage does is causes the plant to get mad. Treatment must be serious, repeated, and strongly intentional or the resultant effect will be of no avail. In the long run, if it is controlled, it will always be around coming back at the slightest invitation.

A common problem is its effect on windbreak tree and shrub plantings where it will invade, climb, and strangle the young windbreak seedlings. Not much can be done when a windbreak gets in such a detrimental situation. Being aware of the presence of bindweed prior to a windbreak planting can be a precautionary practice.

Collectively, all kinds of treatments exist. Along with the previously mentioned chemical control, biological control has showed some promise along with livestock grazing by goats and sheep. However, these are temporary measures and have not proved to possess a prolonged or terminal effect. In testimonial proof of the heartiness and stamina of bindweed, years ago a farmer in Southeast Colorado had bindweed growing in his wheat field. In strong desperation, while at the same time in need of an attitude adjustment, he sowed salt on the large portion of the infected wheat field. The result was everything was killed for nearly a full decade. The first thing to come back, - you guessed it, - was field bindweed.