Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.


The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.


Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.


The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.


The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.


Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)

Maximilian Sunflowers lining the entrance of Wldseed Farms in Fredericksberg

As you drive along the high ways and by ways of our great state this fall, notice all of the native plants that are in full bloom.  Fall is a great time for many native flowers and perennials.  One of the most stunning and prolific of the fall blooming Texas natives is the Maximilian Sunflower.  It is hard to drive anywhere in Texas right now and not see this stately and beautiful plant.  Maximilian Sunflowers produce stalks that can reach 8’ to 10’ in height.  The tall stalks can be completely covered with bright yellow flowers from their base to their tip.  These flowers produce tons of little seeds that ensure that they, and many species of wildlife, will survive until next year.

Close up of the heads of these beautiful flowers

Maximilian sunflowers are actually a perennial plant.  Even though they flower and disperse their seeds like an annual, their roots will survive even the harshest of Texas winters.  Due to this combination of perennial roots and very productive seed heads, Maximilian Sunflowers often develop into very large and thick colonies of plants.  The yellow flowers of these colonies result in fabulous drifts of yellow that paint the fence rows and ditches of fall rural Texas.

The stalk of my Maximilian right before it bloomed, This stalk is about 9′ tall

Even though Maximilian’s are native, they do very well in cultivation.  I have this plant in my beds and so do many of my friends.  It is a great pass along plant.  In fact, that is how I got mine.  My friend Cynthia Mueller brought me some shoots from her established colony this previous spring.  Cynthia has a very beautiful stand that she divides every year and shares with all that want them.

Maximillians in the front border of my potager

Since Maximilian Sunflowers are a native plant, they will do well in low water situations.  However, if you want them to be truly spectacular, water them just like any other bedding plant (about 1” of water per week).  They love full sun and will grow in just about any soil type.  Because of their tall foliage, you may be required to stake or prune them.  If pruning, trim them down to about 2’ or 3’ in late June or early July.  This will keep the plant from growing much over four feet.  When pruned in this manner they can make a very attractive hedge or border. Also, since Maximilians are sunflowers, they last forever as a cut flower in your fall bouquets.

Maximilian’s in mixed Fall bouquet from my beds

My wife and I recently visited Wildseed Farms in Fredericksberg.  They use Maximilian Sunflowers extensively throughout their property and the results are beautiful.  While on their property, I noticed Maximilian used as a stand-alone specimen, in stunning combinations and in mass plantings.  Each use of the plant was very appealing to the eye.   This large scale, fall blooming plant will reward you with beautiful flowers for years to come and, as an added bonus, this tough and reliable fall perennial will draw in several species of birds, moths and butterflies to your garden.  If you would like some for yourself you can order on-line (or visit) Wildseed Farms or  get a start from a friends garden.  This lovely perennial will reward with years and years of reliable blooms.