What Is Bindweed and How Do I Get Rid of It?

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Don't let its dainty-looking flowers fool you — bindweed is noxious, and you don't want it taking over your landscape.

Even if you’ve never heard of bindweed, you’ve probably seen it plenty of times — maybe even in your backyard. It’s a prolific weed, native to Europe, now common throughout much of the U.S. and around the world, according to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board.

The only places in the U.S. where you’re unlikely to find it are the Southeast and certain parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. That makes sense, considering it grows best when exposed to moisture.

“It thrives (almost) everywhere, and is really difficult to manage,” says Andy Hulting, an associate professor and extension weed management specialist in the department of crop and soil science at Oregon State University. According to Hulting, bindweed is one of the top 10 most troublesome weeds in the world.

But don’t be discouraged. There are a couple of things you can do to minimize bindweed’s impact on your yard or garden. Let’s learn about its looks and behaviors, and your best bets for getting rid of it.

What Is Bindweed?

Bindweed is an invasive, climbing weed that spreads through seedlings and an unrelenting underground root structure that can extend 20 feet into the ground. Left untreated, it will grow like a vine up fences, around plants and trees and through turf. Hulting says an established bindweed system can easily overtake a landscape.

Field bindweed offers the biggest concern to home gardeners. Another variety, hedge bindweed, is also a problem, but it’s more likely to appear along the side of the road or a stream of water than in someone’s backyard.

Unfortunately, bindweed doesn’t look threatening. The leaves are heart- or arrow-shaped, and the white, pink or purple-ish flowers are downright cute. Sometimes, Hulting says, people confuse bindweed with morning glory. Technically, the two are cousins, but the morning glory is not invasive and frequently appears in flower gardens.

When Does Bindweed Grow?

Bindweed flowers start to bloom in the spring and continue until the weather turns frosty. Because the weed is a perennial, it never actually dies off. Instead, the root system continues to spread underground all winter long. Then next year, you’ll see those little flowers pop up somewhere previously bindweed-free.

Is Bindweed Safe?

Bindweed is not safe for your flower and vegetable garden because its creeping vines can strangle your plants. Fortunately, Hulting says it’s not harmful to humans or pets. The stems do contain a milky sap, but the sap won’t hurt you if you touch it.

However, according to the University of Nevada’s Institute of Natural and Agriculture Resources, bindweed “contains alkaloids that are mildly toxic to certain types of livestock.”

Horses in particular can experience gastrointestinal distress if they ingest bindweed, although Hulting says most instinctively know not to graze it. Other animals are unlikely to suffer ill effects. Some  — sheep, cattle, goats, hogs and chickens — will even eat bindweed leaves and stems.

How to Keep Bindweed From Invading Your Space

Whether you own horses or not, it’s best to do everything in your power to keep bindweed away. Because getting rid of it altogether is a significant challenge, Hulting recommends preventing it first.

“Be very careful about bringing seeds, compost and composted manure onto your property,” he says. Bindweed seeds can hide in all those things, and Hulting says there’s no way to tell if they’re in there until it’s too late.

The dilemma, of course, is that without seeds and compost, there’s no way to cultivate a garden. The solution? Purchase your supplies from trustworthy sources. It isn’t a sure thing, but it can help.

How to Get Rid of Bindweed

More likely, you’ll be dealing with bindweed after the fact. In this case, you have two options:

  • Till or weed the area: This is Hulting’s preferred choice, and the only non-chemical, organic weed-killing method he recommends. Be aware it takes consistent effort over several years to make this work. You’ll have to weed every couple of weeks for five years, maybe more. If you don’t, the bindweed will almost certainly return.
  • Spray it: Use a product that contains dicamba, such as Spectracide Weed & Grass Killer.

Wondering whether you can just skip all of this and mow over the bindweed with your lawn tractor? No such luck, says Hulting, adding it will just grow back.

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Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.