I’ve gardened in quite a few places in my time: tiny London handkerchiefs, tidy allotments, long thin suburban terraces and my current wild and woolly country acre.
But in all that time I have never once been free of bindweed.
Every year, around April or May, it snakes its tendrils above ground and the battle begins. I have tried everything. I’ve dug it out laboriously by the roots (it came back with redoubled vigour, each subterranean root I broke now able to produce two new plants where there was one before). I’ve sprayed it with chemicals using every trick in the book, from persuading it to climb up bamboo canes to stuffing it in jars before spraying. It came back.
So in despair, I gave up digging, and I gave up spraying – never much liked doing that anyway, especially since the current controversy over glyphosate. And I tried to find another way.
I won’t say my garden is now bindweed free – most of these methods require a fair bit of persistence and I am a haphazard gardener at best, so I’ve taken my eye off the ball a little at times, allowing the bindweed to re-establish here and there.
But I have had more success with these methods than with anything else I’ve tried. Where I’ve tackled it properly, the bindweed in my garden is now on the retreat. It’s taken a while – reckon on two or three years of continuous vigilance - but where I’ve kept up the attack, my old enemy has finally disappeared altogether.
Method one: Hoeing
Good old-fashioned hoeing, the sort you use to keep annual weeds down, will also chop the heads off bindweed shoots as they emerge. This deprives the roots of the leaves they need to feed themselves, weakening them until eventually, they die.
Hoe once a week if you can, and once a fortnight minimum. This is the quickest of the three methods I use, and great for clearing bare ground, but it’s not my favourite. You can’t hoe bindweed growing alongside plants, or you risk damaging the plants as well; and the root is only cut off just below ground level, so top growth returns sooner.
Method 2: Finger pulling
This is a method that needs no special equipment and takes just seconds to do. It’s also rather satisfying. Wriggle down with your fingers under the bindweed until you find the bit just below ground where the stems shoot out from the root. Grasp the root firmly with finger and thumb and pull, slowly but steadily. You will find the root uncoils a little way out of the ground before snapping, so you bring some of it out with the top growth, but without fragmenting the root as you would with a fork. This means the top growth doesn’t come back as quickly as with hoeing – so the effect lasts longer.
Again – you need to keep this up, but it’s so easy I just do it whenever I spot a bindweed shoot as I’m pottering around the garden. I managed to clear a rose bed previously infested with bindweed at a garden I looked after once, simply by going round pulling the bindweed first thing when I arrived each week. One day, after two or three seasons of this, I arrived and there simply wasn’t any bindweed left to pull. Job done.
Method 3: Cardboard mulching
This is the nuclear option – but also the most effective, with the quickest and most long-lasting results. It’s best for clearing large patches of infested ground – a new veg bed, perhaps, or even an established bed which you’ve just cleared.
Take any top growth out using the finger pulling method above, then water the soil if the weather is dry. Lay a thick sheet of cardboard over the soil; you’ll need at least two-ply cardboard, or two or three layers of thinner single-ply.
Spread a thick mulch over the top of the cardboard; it should be at least 10cm (4”) thick, but 15cm (6”) is better. You can plant straight into this mulch: the plants’ roots can punch down through the cardboard, but bindweed, smothered in the dark, can’t find its way up to the light.
You may need to repeat this if you’re dealing with a really established colony of bindweed. If growth re-emerges once the cardboard has rotted down, just put another layer of cardboard and another layer of mulch on
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