Vining plants have a unique charm in the home landscape. They effortlessly hide trellises and seem to possess a life of their own. However, not all vines are created equal, and some can become a nuisance if left unchecked. It’s essential to identify and manage these weedy vines before they take over your garden.
Beware the Pretty Vines Found in the Landscape
It’s easy to fall for the allure of a cute, little vine that pops up in your yard. But be warned, what starts as an innocent addition to your landscape can quickly become overwhelming. The key to effective weed control lies in proper identification and proactive scouting for emerging weed issues.
One such weedy vine is the Honeyvine milkweed (Ampelamus albidus). This perennial vine spreads through its seeds and long, creeping roots. The heart-shaped leaves, arranged oppositely on the stem, are held aloft by long petioles. Its small whitish flowers form in clusters and are easily distinguished. Come winter, the smooth, green seed pods persist and stand out against evergreen backdrops, making this weed easy to identify.
Another troublesome perennial vine is the Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium). It spreads through rhizomes and features triangular leaves with a pointed tip and a squared leaf base. The flowers, white to pink and funnel-shaped, resemble those of the morning glory vine, which we will discuss next. While not an immediate cause for concern, the rhizomes of the Hedge bindweed allow it to spread rapidly.
Similar to the Hedge bindweed, the Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) has arrowhead-shaped leaves with rounded tips. The leaves are smaller, and their bases have rounded lobes that point outward. Remember this handy tip: “hedges have edges” to help distinguish between the two. Like its hedge-dwelling cousin, the Field bindweed is also a rhizomatous perennial.
Wild buckwheat (Polygonum convolvulus) presents similarities to the bindweeds, but its lobes at the leaf base point backward towards the petiole. It possesses an ochrea, a papery sheath encircling the stem at the petiole attachment, distinguishing it from other species. Inconspicuous greenish-white flowers cluster on long white racemes. Unlike bindweeds, wild buckwheat is an annual without rhizomes, but don’t be fooled—it is still considered a “serious weed.”
Morningglories (Ipomoea spp.) are often mistaken for bindweeds or wild buckwheat, but their leaf shapes are distinct. Depending on the species, morningglory leaves are either heart-shaped or 3-lobed, resembling ivy. Their cotyledons even take the form of butterflies. While most morningglories in Illinois are summer annuals that reproduce through seeds, the perennial Bigroot morningglory (I. pandurata) is present statewide. It shares heart-shaped leaves with the honeyvine milkweed, but the leaves are arranged alternately on the stem. Additionally, the reddish-purple centered white flowers and large underground tubers distinguish Bigroot morningglory.
Vine control methods involve repeated pulling or cutting back, mowing, mulching, and herbicides. For turf situations, maintaining a healthy and high-mowed grass can deter vine growth. Various postemergent herbicides, including 2,4-D, carfentrazone, quinclorac, dicamba, oxyfluorfen, triclopyr, and glyphosate, provide some level of control for these vines. When using herbicides, always follow label directions carefully. Repeated applications may be necessary, especially for summer annual weeds. For perennial bindweeds, fall applications tend to be most effective.
Beauty is subjective, as they say. I encountered a field bindweed in full bloom today, and a passerby remarked on its beauty. Up close, the flowers are undoubtedly attractive. However, when I envision this vine smothering a shrub, all I see is a weed.
Author: Michelle Wiesbrook
To learn more about sustainable gardening practices and weed control, visit the Ames Farm Center website.