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Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

Don’t let vines get you twisted

August 18, 2005

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If the survey question was "what is your least favorite gardening chore?," I am confident that nine out of 10 gardeners would reply with "weeding." And of those nine, most would probably agree that pulling vines is the worst. They wrap around plants and trail far into the distance, only to return from the roots once the tops have been removed. There are four vines that are commonly found infesting flower beds, vegetable gardens and lawns. Here are some suggestions to help control field bindweed, climbing milkweed, poison ivy and Virginia creeper:

Field bindweed is probably the most aggressive and invasive viney weed. Around since 1877, it has been on the Kansas noxious weed list since 1937. It's a perennial vine that reproduces by either seeds or by underground rhizomes. The flowers are white and funnel-shaped; they begin to appear in June and last through September.

Control is difficult because the plant is built for survival. A single plant can produce 10-foot-long lateral roots in one season. Buds form along the roots that can become new plants even if the mother plant is destroyed.

Hand hoeing is at the top of the list of control options, and diligence is the key to success. The plant starts feeding the massive root system after the stem has reached the six-leaf stage. So pull early and often. If the weeds are in unmaintained areas of the garden, a broad-spectrum vegetation killer such as glyphosate (Roundup) will work well. If bindweed is taking over the lawn, call professionals and request that they use a product called Drive with the active ingredient quinclorac.

A bindweed look-alike is called climbing milkweed or Honeyvine milkweed. It, too, is a perennial but is native to the United States. The leaves are similar to bindweed in shape, size and color. However, climbing milkweed leaves are opposite on the stem, whereas bindweed leaves are alternate. Flowers are very different. Instead of being funnel-shaped, climbing milkweed flowers are much smaller and clustered along the vine. Climbing milkweed thrives in a wide range of conditions and can quickly take over a flowerbed or vegetable garden.

Control options for milkweed are the same for bindweed: hand hoeing on a regular basis. If the plant can be separated from the desired species, a spray of glyphosate (Roundup) will work as well.

A less aggressive but even less desirable vine found in undisturbed flower beds and fence rows is poison ivy. Poison ivy is a native plant that can have three distinct growth forms: vine, shrub or low-growing ground cover. When dealing with poison ivy in a perennial boarder or unmaintained area, use either Brush-B-Gone with the active ingredient triclopyr, or Fertilome stump killer. For vines in trees and shrubs, cut the vine just above ground level and paint the fresh cut with Fertilome Stump Killer. This will kill the roots. Alternatively, allow the cut stump to re-sprout and then spray with either Brush-B-Gone or Roundup. Be careful not to touch any part of the plant or any tools used on the plant. It is the oil in the sap that causes the allergic reaction. Use a warm soapy water solution to wash your skin, tools and clothes when finished with this task.

Finally, the fourth vine that can pop up from time to time is Virginia creeper. Often mistaken for poison ivy, Virginia creeper has five leaflets, whereas poison ivy only has three. Virginia creeper is a trailing vine that can grow up to 75 feet tall. It is usually found growing on the sides of old farm buildings, in trees and up telephone poles. Typically planted by birds, it reproduces by seed.

The only two controls are hand hoeing and general-use herbicides such as Roundup. One word of caution: Virginia creeper has been known to cause slight allergic reactions in people highly sensitive to its sap. So wear protection and be cautious when working around it.

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