Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Weed Diaries

My husband discovered it first. Waving me into our bedroom with a look of growing alarm on his face, he pointed at something on the floor. From across the room, it resembled an unnaturally long carpet fiber near the air register. I remember thinking I’d have to fetch some scissors to trim it. When I approached for a closer look, here’s what I saw:

By Bel Mills

Yep. It was a weed. Growing into our bedroom. Suffice it to say, this was the moment I realized we had a spectacular weed problem at our new house.
Funny thing is, I thought we had a weed problem at our old house. Boy, was I wrong. Now that I’ve met the weed pictured above, I can tell you our former weeds were cake. Total amateurs.  One firm tug, and they’d release their grip on the soil with a satisfying ripping sound, all roots present and accounted for. End of story. 
This current weed, on the other hand, is an actual thug of the weed world. A professional.  Master gardeners call it a perennial weed because it returns from the roots every year, whether it drops seed or not. Known as Convolvulus arvensis, or field bindweed, it grows in all 50 states, and considered noxious in 20—though not here in Nevada. My Rodale’s guide to weeds gives a stern warning to “not let it remain in the garden long enough to gain a foothold…because the roots are extensive and can grow 10 feet below the soil surface.”
So much for not giving it a foothold. By the time we moved in, it was practically the only plant thriving in the neglected yard, happily winding itself amongst half-dead roses in the front, and sprawling along the foundation in the back.  I remember being charmed by its pale, morning glory-like blooms.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

With more than a twinge of regret, I methodically ripped it out. I knew nothing about different types of weeds at the time, and I thought once we pulled it—and installed new pavers, turf, and planting beds-- we’d be rid of it. I certainly didn’t know the roots, which snapped when tugged, would spawn new plants from every fragment left behind.

In no time, we found shoots growing through our new pavers,

By Bel Mills
into our new grass,

By Bel Mills

and filling our new planting beds.

By Bel Mills

Eventually it even emerged between the foundation of the house and the concrete in the side yard.

By Bel Mills

Then, spectacularly, it moved into the bedroom.  At that point, we knew more investigation was required. Removing the air register in our bedroom, I saw the plant had grown into the house from the crawl space by wedging its way between the edge of the metal air duct and the subfloor. When I pulled the duct aside, I saw the remains of the shoot—which I’d impulsively yanked on sight: several telltale winding brown stems.

By Bel Mills

They look thoroughly dead, and yet they’d managed to produce one very alive shoot.

At this point my husband put on his brave pants and ventured under our house with a garbage bag to do battle, the chorus from Little Shop of Horrors no doubt ringing in his ears.  He made his way through the cramped crawl space, to the ground underneath our bedroom. He emerged about fifteen minutes later…
By Bel Mills

…with his bag full of this:
By Bel Mills


After that, we were certain we’d eliminated the section of weed growing into, or through, the house. But this spring, we found another shoot between the wooden trim of an exterior door and the stucco of the house.
By Bel Mills


What happened to that one, you ask? Officially, it’s known as acute glyphosate damage. In other words, my husband sprayed the heck out of it with Roundup.  The chemical route was a no-brainer in cases where the weed was growing through construction material. But when my husband eyed the lawn, I balked. Not wanting to disturb the precious circle of life I’d read about in Teaming with Microbes: the organic gardener’s guide to the soil food web, I insisted on just pulling it out. And pulling it again. And then pulling some more.

You can imagine how happy I was to learn, during master gardener training this year, that Round Up breaks down readily in the soil, as does 2,4-D (which will kill the weed in your lawn without killing the lawn.) I also learned it can take up to five years of consistent pulling to successfully eradicate a perennial weed.
No thank you.
Since then, my husband and I have unleashed round after round of chemical fury. We use Roundup where no other plants are present, and a product containing 2,4-D, which won't kill grasses, in the lawn. We are making progress, though some patches are proving remarkably resistant.

By Bel Mills


We will prevail!  Um, I think. Wish us luck.


  1. Five. Years?! Are you freaking kidding me?

  2. I know. Makes you want to get chemical.

  3. Ugh! I do use Roundup *very* rarely, on poison ivy that is too large to pull up by hand without risk of getting the oils on my skin. I do not trust Monsanto's claims that it breaks down in the soil (independent studies show that this varies quite a bit, depending on location, temperature, etc.), so I certainly don't consider it "safe." One of the reasons that you find such varied results is that glyphosate does not leave a residue in the soil, but it still affects soil health. So if it is a short term study looking for what the residue does the stuff will come off as pretty benign.
    When glyphosate gets into the soil it binds with it and can linger for years, unbound glyphosate breaks down fairly quickly. Thus no residue, but it is still there.

    We do have one widespread weed that grows up through cracks, in flowerbeds, etc., though I don't know what it is, but it is a tough one. I just keep pulling the leaves off (we have been here 6 years now) and it is probably 80% eradicated from areas I don't want it.

    Still, I can't argue with your use of it to stop your house from becoming a jungle (ha). I can't believe you found a plant growing up through the vents!! Crazy! Just be sparing and keep pulling too. Also, plants can become resistant, so if the person who owned the home before you used it, it's possible it won't be as effective as you might like.

    Good luck! Glad to see a post from you again!!

  4. OMG, this would make a great plot for a horror movie -- kind of a horticultural version of Hitchcock's The Birds. I have battled this menace in my Gettysburg garden. I know I will never eradicate it, but just try to keep it under control by being very vigilant. Thank goodness it has not yet managed to find its way into the house. (I don't think I want to look down in that crawl space!!) Good luck with this battle. -Jean

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Thanks for reading!