Over the July 4th weekend, I had some of the extended family over for a cookout, in the best Midwestern tradition. One of my family-centered pleasures is cooking with my brother while my resolutely non-cooking sister kibitzes. I am a vegetarian, my brother is not. He brought some homebrew and manned the grill, I made fresh salsa, salad and desert. Between us, we put out a pretty good spread, made even better by contributions from other family members.
After a fine, noisy, friendly meal, I showed off my garden to an in-law from the East coast. We walked along, starting with the vegetable bed near the house, walked past the pagoda dogwood shading its collection of natives, past the prairie patch, all the way back to the pollinator reserve by the alley—which hadn’t been tended to in some time. After all, by permaculture standards, it more-or-less corresponds to a combination of zone four (wildish, semi-managed), and zone five (just plain native and wild).
“How nice,” she said, “you have wild morning glories. Those white flowers are so pretty.”
I looked, fearfully. Yep, arrow-shaped leaves and white flowers festooned the ripening raspberries. The flowers glowed in the late afternoon sun. It was the dreaded hedge bindweed. Not only that, but some pokeweed had unaccountably grown several feet tall, the mint was marching boldly towards the rhubarb, creeping Charlie was growing in the Siberian iris, oregano threatened the milkweed, and quack grass lounged beneath the Coreopsis. I turned my head aside in shame and dismay: I had succumbed to the charm of the new (my beautiful, neat raised bed, with its ranks of basil and chard, its lettuce and leeks, with a row of nasturtiums, said to repel white fly, arrayed down the middle) and had forgotten old friends. That area is always somewhat unkempt, even blowsy, but now it was a little too close to anarchy, perhaps even crossing the line. Pretty soon the rules of the civilized garden would break down and…let’s just say overgrown is an understatement.
Something had to be done, and in fact I’m still working on it, evenings, so as not to disturb the extremely busy bees, wasps, flower flies, butterflies and all their friends and relations at work during the day. I’ve been tidying up, but not too much.
Residents of my house have been battling both kinds of bindweed for close to a hundred years, and the best any of us have achieved is a sort of armed truce. Farmers may use frequent cultivation, planting competitive plant species, and herbicides (see here). We ecological gardeners can try mulching, which I’ve found to be of limited use since the roots just keep traveling to where the mulch isn't.
|Field bindweed seedling|
No parts of this plant should be composted. For one thing, the roots and seeds don’t seem to break down easily. This is one reason I screen and inspect my compost before spreading it—I have enough bindweed, thanks. I keep a covered trash barrel, with a very large yardwaste sticker on it, where I put this and other noxious weeds and every few months, I put the container out for pickup.
Luckily, I hadn’t let the bindweed get too advanced. But I know that from now until the first hard freeze in fall, I’ll be on daily weed patrol for “wild morning glory,” not to be confused with its cousin, the pink, purple or sky blue morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) from South America. In my yard this pretty, bee-attracting plant isn't much of a weed and is easily controlled.
Note: There are good pictures at the Virginia Tech Weed Identification Site. Dr. John Hilty has posted good information and pictures at Weedy Wildflowers of Illinois. Plants of the Chicago Region, by Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm, is an indispensable classic. It is available from the Indiana Academy of Science.
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