The least wanted list- pernicious plants of the Northwest

    If your garden is the way mine tends to be, those perennial beds that may have looked fantastic earlier in the season are becoming harder to enjoy now that they’re being encroached upon by weeds.

    Since most of us in Northwest Philly are dealing with the same short list of vegetal enemies right now, I’ve come up with an FBI inspired list of the plants I’d love to capture and put away for life with no chance of parole.

    In my next few posts I’m going to be talking about the common weeds of Northwest Philadelphia, and how to either eradicate them, or in some cases learn how to coexist somewhat peacefully. As a bow to my most worthy opponent, I’ll start with enemy number one on my least wanted list, field bindweed.

    A plant native to Eurasia, field bindweed is both a horticultural pest and an agricultural threat. Farmland is significantly less valuable when it is infested with this weed. In our mostly built landscapes, bindweed is a garden bully that twines itself around the stems of plants and chainlink fence, coming into bloom when it reaches the top. Its arrow-like foliage can often smother the plants it uses for support.

    The flowers look like miniature morning glories, and can be pale pink or more often white. This plant can make a garden look messy very quickly, and I’m sorry to report that after more than a decade of combat, my experience is that it is difficult to vanquish. The flowers produce a fruit containing a couple of seeds each, but much worse are the roots of the plant. These look like long white strings and in light soil can sometimes be pulled up several feet at a time before breaking off. Even a one inch piece of root left in the soil can create a new plant.

    Chemical controls don’t really work well here, and since bindweed attaches itself to desirable plants and shrubs it can’t be sprayed anyway without sacrificing the plant over which it’s growing. The most effective technique is archeological-type digging. Using a small hand shovel, carefully expose and remove the shallow, ropy roots without breaking them.

    If you have a severe infestation, it may be worth starting completely over, sifting the soil for any stray roots and getting all new, uncontaminated garden plants. Or in a fit of irrationality, you could choose to just give up and move, which is what I did (not recommended.)

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