A bit of a strange one this, that such a pernicious thing could be one of my favourite subjects, but it is. The bindweed that I have in my garden is what I would label as ‘under control’ – and that’s after ten years of dealing with it. Some years I’ve been extremely blasé about it and hardly done anything at all to control it, but others I’ve waged war. This rather slap-dash, all-or-nothing approach seems to have got it to a stage where it no longer bothers me, and the way that I garden now, in daily five minute bursts, is the very best way to ensure that it never returns to overwhelm me again.
It’s important to say here, that I’m resigned to the fact that unless I go over and weed all my neighbours’ gardens I’m never going to eliminate this weed, and I think that’s part of the answer in dealing with it. I KNOW that It’s something I have to be vigilant about.
I don’t use chemicals in my garden; the environmental and personal costs are just too high.
I have small children and I love wildlife so it’s a complete no-no. I used to use a systemic herbicide on my bindweed. It was horrible and scary to use, and although it killed the bindweed I treated, I never had enough time to get all of it, so it didn’t work long term. It takes time to coat the leaves with this horrible stuff. It takes time to massage it in. It takes time (and years off your life) to make absolutely sure that no other plants touch the bindweed that you have treated (because if they do, it’s curtains for them). Even if you don’t care a jot about using harmful chemicals, then this time factor should be enough to put you off, because in the end, regular weeding will get your bindweed problem sorted in much less time.
If you have an infestation (i.e. there is bindweed everywhere you look) then you are going to need to play the long game. Get yourself some thick polythene sheeting (you can re-use it for lots of things) and some metal pegs. Remove as much of the bindweed as you can, and then cover the entire area with at least six inches of good compost. Now cover this compost with the sheeting, pegging it down securely so that you starve the plants completely of light. Don’t despair; you can plant curcubits (squash etc) and potatoes through small holes cut in the sheeting. The pesky bindweed will manageable (if not completely gone) in a year. For more information on this technique see Charles Dowding’s No Dig book.
For common levels of bindweed (i.e. it's strangling a few shrubs), here is how I deal with it.
A widger tool – this looks like a long trowel and is the perfect thing for chasing the brittle roots through the soil
A kneeler – because you’ll be on your knees doing this
Lots of patience – a good audiobook is essential, and can turn this kind of work into a total pleasure, particularly when you end up with a large pile of white bindweed roots at the end of a session!
Depending on the time of year, your bindweed may be scrambling over and strangling your plants. Unwind it (you’ll need to cut and un-twine at the same time) until you get to the ground. Don’t be discouraged by the number of stems. Concentrate on doing one at a time. Gently and slowly begin to chase the roots through the soil, holding the stem with one hand and using the widger to loosen the soil in the other. Be super, super gentle. You don’t want the root to break, as it will create another plant. Obviously, sometimes you just can’t help this from happening, but make it a game to get as far down the root as possible without breaking it. Sometimes you’ll get to the end of it and this is a cause for much celebration! Sometimes you won’t, and that’s okay…you’ve removed lots of the plant, and it’ll take energy and time for it to start again. If the bindweed has got itself tangled within the roots of a beloved plant, then it’s sometimes a good move to dig that plant up, wash the roots off and remove the bindweed that way. This should be a last resort though, and you can mostly keep things manageable just by removing as much as possible on a regular basis.