NOT ALL WEEDS ARE ALIENS, and at the moment I’m actually doing battle with two that are technically native American plants, but very unwelcome nonetheless. I’m currently uninviting spotted spurge (top right), a low-growing Euphorbia relative that’s technically Euphorbia maculata or Chamaesyce maculata, depending who you ask. At the other extreme of height, I’m asking hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium, formerly classified as a Convolvulus, top left) to please let go its counterclockwise twining grasp on some shrubs and ornamental grasses here. Out, out damn weeds!
SPOTTED SPURGE, or Euphorbia maculata, is an annual that waits until the weather warms to really get going here in early summer, when its left-behind, prior-year seeds germinate. In my garden it loves the patio’s cozy cracks and crevices.
Dig it, roots and all as soon as it shows up, but if you are inclined to getting dermatitis from the latex sap of euphorbias, be especially mindful and wear gloves. Always be careful with latex-filled plants not to touch your mouth or eyes, whether you have ever had a rash or not! I use a hori-hori, or Japanese weeding knife, to get it out from between the pavers, but an old kitchen knife will do.
The seeds need light to germinate, so a heavy layer of mulch would work to help stop this one—though not on my crack-and-crevice issue, of course. (Can you picture me spooning mulch onto every crevice?)
Each year my crop has more leaves with characteristic reddish-brown spots early in the season than it does later, and there are related species that have no spots at all, but spotted spurge my issue certainly is. It came in on a nursery pot, a common way to get this weed in your garden, so be more careful than I was.
A final fact: Spotted spurge is apparently fatal to grazing sheep (though apparently it’s not effective on rabbits and woodchucks–or at least my local ones refuse to eat it!). More on spotted spurge and its cousins, from UC-Davis.
THIS WAS A NEW ONE on me this year, a perennial climber with impressive towering ambitions. When I first saw it I thought it was field bindweed, a.k.a. wild morning glory (Convolvulus arvensis). But then I noticed differences in scale, and more. The leaves are slightly different in shape than field bindweed’s, and the flowers are a little larger, but that can be hard to feel confident about unless you can compare them side-by-side.
The easiest ways to tell one from the other, I think: hedge bindweed’s flowers have one large bracht at their bases. In field bindweed (which by the way seems happy to grow along the ground, not just climb) there are two smaller brachts, lower down on the stem, behind the flower. The vintage illustrations I merged, above, compare the two—with field bindweed on the left and hedge bindweed on the right (a photo of a hedge bindweed leaf is just below). More comparison here.
I can’t get into the bed of tall ornamental grasses and twig willows right now to dig out the bindweed’s root system, so I’m trying an alternate suggestion from Teri Dunn Chace: stripping off all the foliage, again and again, to weaken the vine, meantime removing all the flowers to prevent seeds from being set. But I know I must go back for those roots this fall.
more weed wisdom
- Clearweed, or Pilea pumila (photo just above the previous section)
- A weed I planted, Houttuynia or chameleon plant
- Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata
- Commelina and Galinsoga, two more opponents here
- How to ID your weeds—links to online guides
- Smothering weeds with cardboard and newspaper
- Piling on the mulch for weed suppression and control
(Illustrations used with permission of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. “An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions.” 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 47.)
Bindweed! I had a terrible infestation some years ago in a cottage garden in Ireland. But I am not writing about bindweed, but it’s first cousin – pink and dark blue Morning Glory whose seeds are for sale in most supermarkets and hardware stores, a cautionary tale:
We moved to our current location in upstate New York in fall 2008. In 2009, wanting to give a swimming pool greater privacy, I planted those lovely big blue Morning Glory (an annual here) along the pool fence. The following spring while browsing seeds in the supermarket, I spotted a packet for a smaller Morning Glory – a pink and deep bluish-purple variety – which I thought I’d try in addition to the regular blues. The blues did all right, but this smaller variety did fantastically well – too well. Soon they were growing over everything else including established clematis shrubs planted at 7 feet intervals along the fence and creeping into my vegetable beds which are on the other side of the fence in the pool enclosure (killing two birds with one stone). In the fall, their vines were a pain to disentangle from the fence but I was happy to see the end of them and I decided not to plant them the following year – good thing they were an annual, right! Well, imagine my consternation when, in 2010, suddenly there were hundreds of those Morning Glory all along the length of the fence, taking over everything including nearby grape vines and strangling the clematis and my pole beans, tomato and cucumber plants inside the pool enclosure. I pulled most but, as I went to Europe for a few weeks end of July + August, others got to grow, flower and go to seed. End of the story is that I have spent every year since then weeding out those seedlings and if one or two escaped my notice to get to flower, none have gotten to the point of going to seed since 2010. This year, the SIXTH, seedlings are in the 10s rather than the 100s and, I am hoping, this will be the last year that this pest, at least as destructive as bindweed, will be in the garden. Now when I see those seeds in the markets and hardware stores, I see red and, like some lunatic, inform anyone within earshot of the dastardly plague that they are. Surely the sale of such invasive aliens should be illegal!
Wow, thanks for sharing this!
I just saved the thumbnail page at Rutger’s site as a pdf in iBooks on my cell phone. While working outside, I’ll be able to identify weeds.
Thanks, Margaret for that tip!
Oh Claire. I totally agree. I am still pulling out those pink red morning glories. And it’s been at least 5 yrs. The Heavenly Blue were so well behaved and pretty. I find this year I have hedge and field bindweed. Thanks for the tip Margaret of stripping the vines when I can’t get to the roots.
Years ago I planted a lovely heirloom morning glory called Grandpa Ott. Absolutely beautiful, and years later, seedlings are still coming up! Not even the groundhog who would eat off every leaf could stop it. Never again!
I have both of these weeds and although I find them both beautiful they are not welcome where they like to come up! I never knew the low one peoduced an irritating sap. I have never worn gloves with it. Thanks for that.
Yay, weed talk! Your differentiation between hedge- and field-bindweeds is perfect & easy to use. Thanks!
Regarding bindweed of either type, my approach this season has been to yank it at the ground or to follow the root as far as possible/convenient and yank there. The result is the same as stripping leaves and preventing seed development while adding the instant relief of a cosmetic cure. When the root has worked its way into shrub or tree roots, cosmetic weeding seems the only non-chemical treatment.
I have to mention memory from a previous ‘Weed Wars’ on commelina and galinsoga. Now is also their season, and commelina (comma-leena) is one of my favorite mantras to repeat in my head while weeding!
I am also fighting spotted spurge in my garden pathways, need to apply more mulch. But the bindweed, ugh, I have never let it bloom (that I know of) so not sure which one it is, I though maybe it was spreading by the roots. It is only in one bed and I keep pulling out but it keeps coming back. It is driving me crazy.
I’m fighting both right now myself. I have one stubborn patch of bindweed in a bed around my foundation and the spurge is in any crack & crevice it can find. I had put fabric mulch in my vegetable garden this year and the spurge is actually in the small areas around the plants where the fabric was cut for planting. So frustrating!
That one is a devil, Kathy, and for me the weirdest part is that it is native where I live, not the alien invasive it behaves like. Aaarrrgh!
I use vinegar and pickling salt to kill the weeds in the cracks and along the edge of my beds. It works a treat and is cheaper and so much safer than any of the alternatives and I don’t have to worry about reactions to latex from spotted spurge — which is making a concerted effort to take over in some areas!
what is pickling salt?
Hi, Alice. It is salt that is not iodized. The added iodine common to many brands of table salt will turn pickles a dark color or otherwise interfere with success. The various brands of pickling salts have different levels of sodium, by the way, so here’s info on that.
I have a flagstone path that has spotted spurge growing up through some of the cracks. My solution that seems to work is I pour boiling water in the cracks and wait for the weed to wilt and dry up. This method is somewhat time consuming however, whenever I have a pot of boiling water used in my kitchen I haul the pot outside and pour it out on the weeds. Anything is better than spraying weed killer.
Have a great day,
There were supposed to be plantings called the bindweed blasphemies, of all,different colors. The flowers were large and gloriously beautiful but sinful. The white flower with burgundy edging represented the blood of The Christ upon a white shroud. So it alone was allowed to survive. It needs fertilization by flock birds to be at its largest. One of,the metro parks here in Columbus has a lot.
I do put morning glory flowers in vinegar or citrus juice. Sometimes hard liquor, It makes a jeweled vinegar that can be put in the sun indefinitely. I add this vinegar to sugar. Poison Control gives no recording of children being poisoned by morning glories either. I have read passing references to the flower being poisonous. The flower is kind of blah. The wild morning glories can be a terrible pest. I like the little ivy leaf morning glory or a wild morning glory growing up a wild sunflower. I tear off the bigger leaves partially to encourage side growth. Very few gold finches with the annual sunflowers in the front yard. I have seen some I think where a perennial sunflower will be,blooming soon in the parking lot garden.
I once saw a white flowering jewelweed in a lesser part of the metro park system. I thought about going off trail to see,if there was some kind of cemetery there. I didn’t. I am still sorry.
You are supposed to take the soil from jewelweed areas and use them in land restoration, pinching the plant produces better bloom. One of,the ravines has a lot of yellow jewelweed, which was supposedly a substitute for Angelica.
Hedge bindweed really is a demon. I track it to the point it emerges from the ground and cut if off there. At the same moment I hammer in a small but brightly colored stake so I can return and check for resprouting. That keeps it in some control. Some.
For spotted spurge, I use a small blowtorch. If a burn it really well, it seems not to resprout from the roots. Saves a lot of time in paved and gravelled areas. (Alas, it doesn’t work so well for dandelion or most grasses.)
The spotted spurge is frequently seen growing in nursery pots of hens and chicks. I’m sure that’s how it came to my garden. My trough gardens are completely covered with it, so tomorrow, I’m going to take a fork to gently lift the chicks and try to tease the roots up. It’s going to take hours!
The only thing I hate about gardening….weeding. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I have a large section of my herbaceous perennial beds (about 1,000 sq ft) that can become –and stay– very moist after heavy rains. I’ve taken care with the plants selected to ensure that they thrive in this nutrient-dense, moist environment, but oh, the weeds here! Clearweed is a daily irritant; it’s only redeeming feature is that it is so easy to pull. My new nemesis is a matting moss-like, spreading weed that forms a dense, shallow root mass and spreads like crazy. I wish I knew its name so I could curse at it with more familiarity. Any ideas?
I do want to alert folks who may not know about it, to a fantastic weeding tool: a small, lightweight garden blow torch. (Here’s one just for illustrative purposes, but there are many out there on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DJ62JO2/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1500297841&sr=8-9&keywords=garden+blow+torch This one is only $27.) I use this darn thing everywhere. Between pavers, along the edge of curbs, between rocks in my hardscaped stone steps, and all over my raised bed veg garden’s pathways. The heat is very intense, but very targeted, and I use it sweeping alongside the wooden raised bed timbers with no harm to the wood. I can completely weed all my chipped pathways in as much time as it takes to walk all the pathways slowly, sweeping the torch 3″-4″ above the soil level, slowly from side to side. Picture someone using a metal detector on the beach.) The flame is so hot that it is invisible, and the weed plant barely looks affected until about 15 minutes later when it has completely collapsed and died. I attach mine to a small propane cylinder which I carry on a cross body shoulder strap. It’s a godsend. But I dare not use it inside the beds near plant stems, so my cursing the creeping green moss-like weed continues! Any suggestions other than keeping on top of it?
Having both bind weeds in my yard, I googled to find the most organic way to rid myself of these weeds. The suggestion was to exhaust the weeds buy snipping one inch from ground repeatedly . This is time consuming but effective. I have less plants this summer and not thriving! Also for the spotted spurge which is mostly between big patio stones, I use needle nose pliers to get out the plant with root when gentle force is applied! My new favorite tool!
Speaking of weeds – does anyone have any idea of how to kill nutsedge? I’ve tried everything I can think of. Why, oh why, won’t the deer eat it?
This is a monster, too, Catherine. I always start getting to know (and hopefully outsmart) a weed by learning its life history and so on at the U of California IPM site (even though I live in the East). Nutsedge 101 from their site.
I just read the reference. It confirms what I’d already observed/deduced, but I’m going to print it out as a resource. I’ve been using my string trimmer as often as I can, cutting the plants to the ground, letting them re-sprout, and cutting them again. I’m trying to exhaust them; but as the weather has been heating up, I’m the one being exhausted!
If these plants are native, isn’t it a matter of location, location, location? Who cares if there is native vegetation in the cracks of sidewalks? I need a case made for the plants being harmful. Will the bindweed take over and kill all the biodiversity, or something? If not, why not relocate it to a pot with a trellis?
As you imply, it’s a matter of a plant where it’s not wanted (or in the case of the bindweed strangles other more ecologically valuable plants alongside). Neither one is in any way threatened, or in short supply, so I feel on solid ground about removing some of them from my own landscape while they thrive elsewhere.
I’m a transplanted Yankee living in NE Florida and having a difficult time transitioning, but spotted spurge is something that doesn’t bat an eye at our heat, humidity or lack luster soil
Those two are minor annoyances compared to Equisetum (Horsetail). I’ll probably pass on before it makes it’s way under my driveway into my best gardens. I hope the people who live here after me do not curse me for allowing it to spread. It is truly unstoppable. Can’t be smothered, Can’t be pulled. Can’t be poisoned. Will only die if your impacted area is converted to a desert.
Bindweed LOVES growing near our blackberry bramble. Always getting hurt pulling this out of there!