weed wars: hedge bindweed and spotted spurge

hedge bindweeds (left) and spotted spurgeNOT 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

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.

Spotted spurge, or Euphorbia maculata, in cracks in pavementThe 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.

hedge bindweed

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.

Field bindweed, left versus hedge bindweedThe 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.

fi=oliage of hedge bindweedI 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’s new book: 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

(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.)

  1. I’m digging out lots of spotted spurge today too (although I never knew it’s name until now)… no sign of the bindweed but I’ll have to watch for it. That flower would definitely fool me for awhile.

  2. Sue L'Hommedieu says:

    In my garden, Bindweed makes a tangled mess by wrapping around any perennials with a sturdy vertical stem. And since nearly all the plants I grow seem to fit that description, I fool that weed by putting some sticks near it for it to climb. That way I can pull it out without damaging the perennial stems. I can’t imagine plucking off the leaves one by one. Wouldn’t yanking the whole thing be just as effective?

  3. Helen Malandrakis says:

    I deal with the spotted spurge in my garden, all the time. I used to volunteer in a garden that had so much of the bindweed. It was an impossible task to get rid of it.

  4. Terryk says:

    I have regular bindweed but have seen lots of the hedge bindweed down the road. Spotted spurge is in my garden but not as bad as mugwort. I think I also have goldenrod that has gotten out of hand.

    I have tried the white vinegar with lemon juice but it is not taking care of some of these perennial weeds. I bought Burnout as it was recommended by a master gardener at Putnam county cooperative extension. Hopefully it is not another Roundup.

  5. Debkb says:

    I’ve got spotted spurge coming up everywhere. Until today I didn’t know what it was other that a royal pain!

    I pulled a small weed today that had the same sort of leaves as your bindweed pictures. It only had about 6-7 leaves so hopefully I got it all.

  6. There are more types of bindweed? Noooooo! My neighbors do nothing with the field bindweed in their yards so I have to be on it constantly. I have to spray it. Roots reach for several feet. Impossible to dig out especially when we’re surrounded by it.
    The spurge just pops up anywhere it wants when I’m not looking!!! This I pull and keep under control.

  7. Lorraine says:

    These two weeds are rampant here in northeastern MA, too. At least the spurge has only one root in the center, and is easy to pull. The bindweed has been working up to the soil surface here for 35 years, although we took bushels of the root tubers out when we first moved here! It got ahead of me in our heat wave. Tomorrow will be a nice cool day for weeding!

  8. carolyn says:

    I’ve been wondering where the morning glory, with strange small pointy leaves (and which I didn’t plant) came from. ‘Tis bindweed. Thank you for the excellent pics and description.

  9. Diane Du Brule says:

    With bindweed, which I sadly have LOTS of experience with, I go along the ground and find the stems and pull them or sever them. I return a few days later when the vine has died, and extricate it from my plants (if I can).

  10. No magic bullets to getting rid of invasive weeds. Creeping Charlie is one of my banes, along with the “weeds” I planted myself: mint and lemon balm. I did not know about skin sensitivity to spurge – might explain the contact dermatitis on my arm.

  11. JulieL says:

    That STUPID bindweed pops up ALL over my small garden. The rate it grows is astonishing. It is this weed which makes me stay on top of my weeding, less it chokes my still fairly new plants. I HATE IT. Sigh. Well thanks to your post I can detest it by name.

  12. margaret says:

    Hi, Sue and Diane. I have to rip off he leaves because it’s so intertwined with plants I don’t want to defoliate and can’t step in between right now that I can’t really pull the vine at the moment. Where I can, I am doing so, roots and all…but in some spots it’s on things that are in full leaf, too, so I’m reaching in and doing what I can a bit at at time till the opportunity for better access.

    Hi, Bittenbyknittin. HATE Glechoma, and I have never seen more of it (aka creeping charlie). Yikes, here too.

  13. Michelle says:

    Binding weed may look pretty in a park boulevard or open field, but in the community garden I operate it has been an ongoing battle. Not all plot gardeners recognize it as it starts to tangle up their tomatoes, but since it is related to morning glories, my guess is it is toxic and doesn’t belong anywhere near where you grow food.

    In my battle the root system is vigilant and will reemerge even though you thought you had dug it all out with a spade. It may take a few seasons but I’m determined to have the this community garden bindweed free.

  14. kathny says:

    For some reason this year, I’m finding spotted spurge in all of my vegetable beds. Every day I’m out there pulling more and more of it out. The field bindweed has been the bane of my existence since we’ve lived here. The thing to remember with bindweed is it will root anywhere. If you drop a piece of it on the ground it will root itself. I keep a piece of plastic on the ground and put all of the pieces on it so they will burn in the sun and I can then dispose of them (NOT in the composter!) This year, I seem to have a lot of weeds I’ve never had much of a problem with before. Is it just me?

  15. Crewmom says:

    Margaret, good luck getting bindweed of either sort out by the roots, and please let us know if you do succeed! No luck for me after twenty years of constant policing here, all I can do is keep it down to a dull roar. I did read, though, in Richard Mabey’s fabulous book Weeds that the vines make excellent tie-ups in the garden, so much easier than finding the garden twine when you see a bit of clematis heading for the hills. It makes me feel a tiny bit better to get some good out of the stuff, and to have yet another excuse for ripping it out.

  16. Nina says:

    I swear you must live near Chicago, not the east coast–these are the same two plants that I’ve been ripping out of the garden as I try to get ready for a group of artists and a garden walk this weekend. These 2 plants are suddenly everywhere. Thanks for the great info!

  17. Jan shue says:

    there is a Tagetes minuta which is said to secrete herbicldes which will kill weeds such as ground elder,convolvulus,and other nastys. chilterns has seeds and I think pinetree has had them. but i imagine a goggle search would have other sources.

  18. Lori Cole says:

    GREAT info on the bindweed/morning glory difference! All this time I thought I had morning glory twirling throughout my cotoneaster but no! Good to know that upstate New Yorkers battle the same weeds as those of us in Western Oregon. :)

  19. There’s an Agatha Christie story (I don’t remember which one, and it may be more than one) in which Miss Marple, who is an avid gardener, metaphorically compares eradicating evil to eradicating Bindweed. She describing how difficult it is to get it all and how vigilant one must be to keep it from returning. It rings true doesn’t it?

    Also I have read that Bindweed roots can go down 50′. It seems unlikely – does anyone know?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cynthia. I haven’t ready 50 feet, but if that’s true maybe I will not bother trying and just read and watch dvd’s the rest of the garden season. :)

      Hi, Steve. Nutsedge is a beast. So sorry. This year our crabgrass is like three times as prolific as usual, and another lawn weed — ground ivy or Glechoma — has reached record proportion. Ugh.

      Hello, Nina. The USDA maps show them as spread throughout the country, I believe, so I guess we are all in the same weedy boat!

      Welcome, Crewmom. I’m not optimistic about my chances at total success, but I will give it the good fight. (Or make tie-ups as you suggest!).

  20. Dahlink says:

    Margaret, last year you identified my particular weedy mystery as dodder. It’s back again this year. I clipped a pretty branch of coleus that had yellow dodder tangled up in the leaves and brought it inside. Much to my amazement, the golden thread of dodder continued to grow until it reached up and grabbed some keepsakes on the windowsill! It just doesn’t quit.

  21. Sharon says:

    I don’t have hedge bindweed, but I do have field bindweed which drives me MAD. I have to admit I resorted to glyophosate this year in an attempt to kill the stuff growing at the curbside. Won’t use it anywhere that there’s desireable plants. Anything in my beds I just keep pulling.

    Almost ready to throw in the towel and let wild violet be the spreading groundcover it seems to want to be.

  22. Abuelita25 says:

    Like Crewmom wrote this morning, I have a vining weed with the pointy heartshaped leaves, pretty and fragrant little flowers that I have been pulling out of the yard by the meter, and am using it to tie up all of my vertical gardening; tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, pole beans- well, everything. I figure if I can’t beat it, I might as well put it to good use. ;)

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