Spring Gardening Special Section - Local garden guru tackles morning glory (bindweed)

Published on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 by By Naomi Knowlton

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It was a Sleeping Beauty moment.

The eagerness and excitement we felt returning to our home, after 10 years supporting the military, became deflated by reality as our home came into view.

Our once unique and verdant garden was overgrown and out of control.

What had been beds of sedum autumn joy, coreopsis, rudbekia, Russian sage, daylily, perennial geranium, hellebore, hosta, heather, lavender, and many other perennials, as well as various ornamental grasses had vanished. The orchard trees were unmanageable in their unpruned sizes.

Our weeping silver pear now had thick, unruly, twisted branches from lack of training. A 14 by 35-foot bed of kinnickinnick had a terminal fungal disease. The lawn looked more like a poorly tended pasture.

Dandelions and thistle were running rampant. Horsetails, those ancient weeds existing from pre-historic times, covered the former vegetable garden and were growing proudly in the garden.

Panning the damage as we unloaded our suitcases from the car, we began to walk toward the door. This was a short but dangerous journey, dangerous because covering the sidewalk and the garden beds as you approach the front door, were blackberry and morning glory vines.

The thorny blackberry vines were criss-crossing the sidewalk, and the morning glory was climbing in trees and smothering all the shrubs.

I wasn’t about to be rescued from within the castle by a handsome prince cutting back the overgrowth because my prince, otherwise known as The Beast Of Burden, was at my side. We had our work ahead of us––return the garden to a healthy landscape we could enjoy.

We needed a garden guru. Then I thought why not me? I have a lifetime of interest and experience in gardening. My husband and I are currently Master Gardener Interns, and look forward to graduating from that program soon.

I am writing this column to answer questions addressed to me, the garden guru (“little g” intentional), and to share some of the latest gardening information available from the Washington State University Whatcom County Extension office, 360/676-6736.  
Since I needed to know what to do about the noxious weeds that were invading the garden and destroying the landscape plants, it occurred to me that many others  in our area would be facing similar problems. Simply e-mail me via The Northern Light at info@northernlight.com or drop me a note, care of 225 Marine Drive, Blaine, WA, 98230.

Here is a sample of how the garden guru can help:

Dear Garden Guru,
My yard is overtaken by morning glory vines. What can I do to control them?
Please help,
Ms. Greenthumb

Dear Ms. Greenthumb,

Morning Glory, or bindweed  (convolvulus arvensis), is a vining plant with white trumpet-shaped flowers and two small leaf bracts about one inch below the flower. It climbs aggressively over other plants and structures.

Bindweed reproduces from roots, rhizomes, fragments and seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for 20 years or more.
Once established it is nearly impossible to eradicate. It becomes problematic when it outcompetes native species; infestations can reduce crop yields by up to 60 percent, and restoration efforts are threatened.

Bindweed can grow in a wide range of conditions, from full sun to full shade, and is drought-tolerant. This plant is an invasive survivor.

It will take diligence and several growing seasons to control this weed. Avoid digging around bindweed roots because any root or rhizome left behind may re-sprout. Repeated hand pulling is labor intensive but eventually works.

Now (early spring) is a good time to pull the emerging seedlings, when the soil is still wet. You can also smother the plants with mulch, black plastic, or heavy cardboard, but these materials would have to be left in place for several years.

Bindweed can grow in the dark so check for any new growth escaping from the edge of your covering.

Alternatively, you can use recommended herbicides. The WSU extension office in Bellingham can send you a list of recommended herbicides, or you can contact the Noxious Weed Control Program at 360/715-7470. If you decide to use a herbicide, the WSU Master Gardeners recommend what we call, “The Glove of Death.”

As bindweed likes to climb, place a bamboo pole at the base of the vine. After it climbs up the pole prepare your gloves.
Put on a pair of latex gloves, followed by a pair of washable cotton gloves. Dip your gloved hand in an organic herbicide and rub the leaves.

No need to treat the stem, simply the leaves. A friend in Blaine had bindweed smothering a dozen boxwood plants.
She followed this method and after a couple of weeks the vines were dead. With any herbicide, one should read the package and follow the directions.

We live in a fragile ecosystem, and directly on the Drayton Harbor watershed, so thoughtful use of herbicides is recommended.
We can often eliminate the need for herbicides if we create a healthy balance between pests and predators, diseases, and biologically safe controls, i.e. we can pull those young bindweeds.

April Activities

• Plants need nutrients during their growth spurt. Continue to clean and weed flower beds and mulch with compost or aged manure.

• Prune and feed roses.

• Prune early blooming deciduous shrubs, such as forsythia, after flowering.

• Move trees or shrubs.

• Divide perennials that bloom after mid-June.

• Add organic matter, such as compost, to the vegetable garden.

• Transplant February cabbage-family seedlings outdoors.

• Start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant indoors.

• Sow beets, chard, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips outdoors.

• Plant new strawberry bushes.

Renovating the lawn

• Dethatch if old roots and stems at crown level exceed one-half inch.

• Aerate.

• Dig out or spot treat perennial weeds.

• Rake and overseed bare spots with seed mix such as perennial ryes and turf-type fescues.

• Install new lawns or consider replacing the lawn.

• Grasses need at least 6 inches of well-drained soil with 2 inches of compost tilled in.

• A garden is never finished––it is a work in progress, and there are no big secrets to a healthy garden. A recipe for a healthy productive garden: common sense, good gardening practices, and consistent effort.

“Keep a tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.” - Chinese proverb.