8-28-2014 3-06-19 PM

Why I’ll Be Using RoundUp In My Backyard (gasp!)

I know what you’re thinking – this must a be a joke. Certainly Christine and Ben would never use an herbicide on their backyard farm.  These two organic types would not pollute their landscape, their own food supply, and themselves just to make their weed pulling routine a bit easier, would they?  The answers to the above questions are, well, complicated.

As you’ve heard me post before, Ben and I are losing the war to weeds.  Specifically, we are losing the war to bindweed – one of the most notorious and devastating weeds around.  Bindweed, in case you’re unfamiliar, is aggressive, fast growing, and will strangle everything on your landscape (think small scale kudzu).  It has massive root systems (like 40′ long), responds to being pulled by sending up more shoots, has seeds that are viable in the soil for years, and can spread by cuttings or root pieces.  In other words, if you’ve got bindweed, you’ve got problems.

So let’s back up a step and talk about how we got to where we are.  I am part permaculturalist, part backyard farmer, and all practical.  If it doesn’t work, I don’t do it.  When I became certified in permaculture I was introduced to several alternative methods for managing pests and weeds.  These methods work, and many of them work very well.  Weeds growing up through my driveway?  No problem – white vinegar knocked those bad boys out in one application.  Aphids on my kale?  A weak mixture of 10:1 water and isopropyl alcohol misted on with a spray bottle and the aphids were bye-bye.  Pocket gophers cruising my yard?  A mass planting of daffodils and the little buggers were gone.  Natural methods do work, and these methods work without all of the nasty side effects of pesticides and herbicides.

Where natural methods fail is with bindweed.  Bindweed is so tough, so resilient that really nothing but an herbicide will kill it.  There is a mite that feeds exclusively on bind weed that is showing some limited success, but not great results.  The Colorado State Extension Office even states that in order to be pleased with the results you should lower your expectations.  The mite will not eradicate bindweed from your property after an application.  In fact the mite may not eradicate bindweed from you property ever.  Over time the mite may significantly stunt your bindweed, but it will most likely not end your bindweed problem.

Please understand that I dislike herbicides and that I distrust their claims of safety.  Ben and I have encountered a few stubborn Chinese Elms on our property as well, another example of a plant that you can only kill with and herbicide (or some equivalently nasty concoction).  We reluctantly used brush and stump killer on the plants.  After we cut the suckers down, we used a paint brush and painted the fresh cut with the herbicide.  After application, we covered the stumps with upside down clay pots.  That was four years ago, and the pots are still in place, covering the offended area.  We really don’t like herbicides.

But, the reality is this – the bindweed is taking over.  I took two days off of work and spent the entire time in my yard clipping bindweed (if you pull it, it comes back stronger so you have to cut it off at the soil line).  After that I hired a landscaper to take over bindweed duties.  No luck – the bindweed looks just as strong as it did before my 16 hours of weed clipping and the landscaper’s hours of work.  I simply can’t keep up with this plant, and I am unwilling to succeed my backyard farm.  My choice, as I see it, is to resort to an evil to combat a bigger evil – employ Roundup to kill the bindweed.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or something along those lines.

If you’ve been to our place you know that we have fruit trees and vegetable plants all throughout the yard, and we have a honey bee hive.  We have to get rid of the bindweed without killing any of our fruit trees, damaging our garden soil, or killing our bee hive.  As luck would have it, this year, with all of it’s ups and downs, just might be the perfect year to launch an all-out assault on the bindweed.

Here’s the plan:

  • We will use Roundup because it can break down in soil over time.  Don’t let that fact fool you into thinking that this product is safe, because it is not.  Roundup is really bad stuff and is freakin’ everywhere right now – including human breast milk.  According to the literature on Roundup, it should break down out of our soil in about four months, long before the next growing season.  That being said, we need to use extreme caution when applying this product, only apply the minimal amount, and handle disposal correctly.
  • Because bindweed should be treated in the fall, our timing is good.  Bind weed stores energy in it’s root system all summer so that it can emerge in the spring.  If the bindweed is treated in the fall, the Roundup kills the energy-filled tap root, knocking out it’s ability to come back in the spring.
  • The lack of production due to the devastating hail storm in May of this year makes us more willing to use an herbicide – we really have nothing left to lose this growing season.
  • Because we have bees, fruit trees and a vegetable garden, the herbicide cannot be spray-applied.  The herbicide must be applied to the leaves with a sponge tied to the end of a long stick (now, what do I do with that when I’m done?).  Just like treating the Chinese Elms, the plant will be treated directly, and only the plant will be treated.  Dead plants will be removed from the soil surface and thrown away (which does not give me a warm fuzzy  – poisoned plants to the landfill).  The plants absorb the glyphosate and pull the poison into the root system.  This is our best chance to destroy a root system that stores energy, generates new shoots when disturbed, can be 40′ long, and is rumored to be, in some cases, 20′ underground.
  • As long as the flowers are kept off of the bindweed, our bees will ignore the plant.  Right now the Russian Sage is blooming, and our bees are crazy for Russian Sage.  No blooms on the bindweed should equal no impact to the bees – the girls are off and busy with their favorite plant of the season.  We pulled all of the honey for the season in July, so again, there should be no impact.  Some bee discussion boards claim no impact on bees from Roundup at all, while other sites point to studies that suggest some impacts to honey bees.  I’m inclined to believe that Roundup will negatively impact honey bees, so it is imperative that there be no flowers on the bindweed when we apply the Roundup.
  • The garden beds will not be treated in any way.  The bindweed in the garden beds is minimal; I am confident with consistent pruning, coupled with the (hopeful) death of several bindweed tap roots, the garden beds will be managed just fine without an application.
  • Because Roundup is known to negatively impact mammals, the dog and the cat will need to be kept away from the treated areas until such time as it is deemed safe for them to be allowed back in those areas.  One area we can fence off to keep them out; another area I’m still working on a solution.

If you’ve never battled a rippin’ case of bindweed, I would humbly ask that you reserve any judgements that you might want to level against us.  Ben and I have tried for four years to keep this unbelievable weed at a bay, and we have failed miserably.  The guilt and disappointment when we spy a strong patch of bindweed taking over a fruit producing shrub or tree is causing an avoidance reaction in both of us – we don’t want to venture too far into the back yard and once again be confronted by our epic failure.  Using an herbicide is a fall-back position, and an option of last resort.  We’re out of ideas, out of energy, and frankly we are out of time.

Thoughts about herbicide use on a backyard farm?  Please leave your comments below – we’d love to hear from you. 



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39 Responses to Why I’ll Be Using RoundUp In My Backyard (gasp!)

  1. Robin August 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Hi Christine, just wanted to let you know that when I spoke with the city forester here in Brighton, he did a test area himself on his own property using the bind weed mite and it worked very well. I don’t specifically know how bad his bind weed problem was though. He did mention that since bind weed is in the morning glory family, once the mites have killed your bind weed, they would look for something else in the morning glory family, if you have anything. And by the way, our extension office has a waiting list of people for bind weed mites. Just thought you might want to know, but I am with you, so extremely difficult to get rid of. Good luck and thanks for all the great info you provide us.


    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      Thanks for that Robin – that sounds more promising than the Extension site. I don’t have any other plants in the Morning Glory family, so I should be good there.

  2. ModernSurvival August 29, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Next year the bind weed you have will be stronger.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      I hope not Jack. I hope between the Roundup this fall, the mites next spring (if we can get them) and a hired landscaper to cut (not pull) the bindweed when it emerges we will actually kill the taproot(s). I have no intention of managing my bindweed – I want it gone.

  3. Sandra Knauf August 29, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Twenty years ago when I became a master gardener we were told Roundup was safe. Of course this was done with “research” funded by Monsanto. Now we know better. From your post, you know better too: danger to people, danger to other mammals, danger to bees–but feel desperate. I respect your work immensely and applaud what you’ve done educating people about growing food locally, but there are other solutions and there always have been and they are out there. We also now know using these products only leads to adaptation in plants and “superweeds.” Higher and higher levels of Roundup are now required in farming and they are trying to get more toxic chemicals approved. It’s not the solution! I’m especially disappointed, as your place as a leader in local urban farming sends a message (a green light!) to others that this is acceptable.
    P. S. I have bindweed EVERYWHERE. We have two lots, grow vegetables and herbs and flowers. Have been for 20 years. Bindweed’s been here longer than we have. I pull it up. With this summer’s moisture, it’s extra prolific, but that’s just the way it is. I will not risk my health or any other creature’s. Bindweed is a (relatively minor) fact of life in this area and we just have to deal with it, not give in when we have a bad year. And we’ve all had a tough year.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Hmmm… I wonder if our bindweed problem is on the same scale? I could spend 40 hours a week pulling the bindweed in my yard – that is no exaggeration. I know it varies from place to place. Perhaps my place has an especially severe case? And yes it is worse this year than last, but it is bad every year. Thanks for the kinds words about my work Sandra, and I respect your opinion in this matter. I am not an herbicide fan by any stretch of the imagination, and this decision was hard to come to. If you have a suggestion for something that will kill bindweed other than Roundup, I am all ears. It must be something applied to the plant, and not to the soil (like salt or vinegar). The bindweed is too intertwined with the rest of the landscape for a soil application – whatever kills bindweed will almost certainly kill everything else if it’s applied to the soil.

  4. Melina August 29, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    I feel your pain. Our garden is covered with it and it’s just become a fact of life that I pull it up in the summer. I, too, have resorted to Roundup (shudder) and it works, most of the time. I will resort to it again this weekend. I envision one huge root, somewhere near downtown, tendrils snaking out to engulf the entire town. Maybe you hitting it in Ivywild and me hitting it in Pleasant Valley will weaken the monster. yeah, no. But maybe next summer will be a little more bindweed-free.
    To other readers, please don’t judge us.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks Melina – if folks have never battled a rippin’ case of this stuff it’s hard for them to imagine just how bad it is. I appreciate your candor.

  5. Skip August 29, 2014 at 9:28 am #


    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

      Skip, is this link to an organic herbicide company site another chemical that will kill bindweed? Curious – what is an organic herbicide? Just as deadly I assume. I once bought a flea spray for my flea infested apartment in Seattle. The spray was made from chrysanthemum flowers and was deadly. Organic can kill you just as fast I suppose.

  6. Brad August 29, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Anybody out there have any bindweed recipes?


    Your option sounds like a lot of work, and without any real guarantee of success. Feel like you would end up back with the same problem in a few years if you miss one or two tap roots. especially if your selectively dosing the plants.

    I think I, lazy b@stard that I am, i would nuke the whole homestead, declare 2015 a “jubilee” year and start again in 2016. Possibly spend a year focused on the infrastucture of the homestead(esp. after the hailstorm), maybe using the fallow year to redesign those things you wished you’d done differently. Possibly what you lose in productivity next year you could make up for in future with increased efficiency.

    either way… You’ve done your due diligence. I can’t imagine anyone thinking less of you regardless of your decision. You head and shoulders above most of us already.

    I am sure it will go well. I’d say good luck, but knowing you guys… it be all hard work and clean liv’in. You won’t need luck

    Excited for your future.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Thanks Brad – kind words when we’re feeling a bit traitorous at the moment. This really was a very tough decision. We feel we have exhausted all other options.

  7. MARILYN August 29, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    Cultural Control

    Experiments in some annual and perennial crops have demonstrated the effect of shade on bindweed growth. In these studies, alfalfa, cereal grains, sorghums, and corn partially reduced bindweed growth. Shade from shrubs and trees also should reduce growth, especially if there is another planting under the trees and the bindweed isn’t allowed to climb above the foliage of these plants.

    Seedlings of field bindweed are easy to control with cultivation, but only for about 3 to 4 weeks after germination. After that, perennial buds are formed, and successful control is much more difficult.

    Cultivation or hoeing has been partially effective in reducing established stands of field bindweed. Cultivate about every 2 to 3 weeks and repeat whenever necessary. In conjunction with cultivation, withholding water to dry the site might help to reduce the perennial population in a summer season, assuming the roots have not tapped into deep moisture.

    Landscape fabrics such as polypropylene and polyester and other mulches such as black plastic or cardboard have been effective for bindweed control if no light is allowed to reach the soil and the plant. The edges of the fabric must overlap so that the bindweed stems can’t grow between the sheets and into the light. If holes are made in the fabric or plastic for plants, however, bindweed can also grow through these holes. A landscape fabric placed over soil then covered with bark or other plant-derived product (e.g., organic matter) or rock will likely keep field bindweed from emerging. It might take more than 3 years of light exclusion before the bindweed dies. Once landscape fabric or other mulch is removed, new bindweed plants might germinate from seed in the soil; be sure to monitor the site and control any new seedlings. Complete death of the plant under the mulch takes 3 to 5 years.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Mulches do not work on this bindweed – we have weed fabric and bark mulch over large sections of our yard and the bindweed grows out from under. We have never seen the “bindweed does not compete well with other plants” actually work in our yard. The hoeing idea does seem like it would knock it back. Our problem with that solution is that much of the bindweed is growing out of our berms, and hoeing the berms destroy the water works, creating a new problem. This stuff is like nothing I’ve ever seen. 🙁

  8. Carol Cromie August 29, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    having bindweed myself,ten years ago I placed rubber pond lining on the area most effected. Damn stuff found the cracks, grew around and kept going. I go after it three times in the summer, digging and drying the roots, I am good at following roots and collection…and all I can say is there is somewhat less bindweed…after 20 years of war. Good luck with your application, may it work for you. I plan to pen my corgis on top of it, but the chickens might be the best, but that means moving the coop and hen house. sigh.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

      Yep, ours found it’s way out from under weed cloth and bark. Speaking from experience, the idea that you can smother it is laughable. Pulling it won’t stop it, smothering it won’t stop it, livestock won’t eat it, and natural remedies don’t faze it. This particular weed is tough.

  9. John S. Brunel August 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Hey, no casting of stones, we are all in this together. Clearly it is important that we all start cutting back on chemical attacks because they do infiltrate the ecology and in mostly negative ways. However, sometimes you have to take that unfortunate step. I pull the bindweed by the bucketful several times each growing season, it is a persistent pest. The problem I have is the damn stuff growing in my driveway, (which is gravel) I have had to resort to the Roundup as well, after trying every home remedy I could find on the web. We just have to keep on trucking and try to lower our footprint when we can in a practical fashion. Keep up with your great work Christine, you are an inspiration to us all.

    • Christine August 29, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Thanks for the comments John – sorry to hear you’re in the same boat. I have yet to find a natural remedy that will kill bindweed. If anyone has a natural remedy that kills bindweed I would love to know what it is. Herbicides are a lousy option, they really are. I’m just not ready to turn over my homestead to the Kudzu of Colorado.

  10. pasto76 August 30, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    seeing claims of the plant coming back “stronger”. by what measure? tap roots of 20 ft you heard? have to cut, not pull. Why is that? lots of anecdotes. maybe they are making using this chemical easier. the last post I see hear also indicates that roundup may not be the miracle cure for which you are looking.

    • Christine September 2, 2014 at 8:47 am #

      Bindweed sends up runners from the tap root when the vines are pulled. When the vines are cut, the plant does not respond the same way. This is not anecdotal, this is research based information (per Colorado Extension). And yes, the roots are 20′ at times; also research based. 🙁 Herbicides are not miracle cures and I would never claim that they are. Our hope is that Roundup can stun the plant enough for us to get a handle on it. For the last four years we have been losing ground to this aggressive plant. The comment about the plant coming back stronger is based on the broad spraying of weeds in agricultural areas, and the pesticide resistant weeds that are now emerging. It is a similar situation with antibiotics – overuse has bred super germs in much the same way that overuse of herbicides has led to herbicide resistant weeds. I would take an antibiotic in a desperate situation (though I try to avoid antibiotics); I plan to use an herbicide for the same reason. Everything I’ve asserted about bindweed I’ve experienced first hand. 🙁

  11. Lisa Funk September 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    As I told you earlier this summer, I am trying the bindweed mites. I called the CO Dept. of Agriculture and spoke to one of the folks in the insectary. She said that they had to find a new “breeding” site because the mites had pretty much eradicated all the bindweed at their original area; apparently this was over the course of several years. We’re been battling them for over 8 years on our 1 acre site so I can be patient!
    I applied them over a month ago and I have my fingers crossed. It is too early to tell, of course, but I am hopeful. The mites are suppose to crawl down the root system as winter approaches and spend the cold months underground. I’m not sure if they are still shipping them out, but my understanding is that you will get them faster if you order directly from them rather than going through the county extensions in case anyone else is interested.
    I’ll keep you posted. With all the rain, we were totally overwhelmed this summer and our entire front yard has a nice thick cover of bindweed. Extremely frustrating. I wouldn’t dare try any herbicides as we have lots of flowers and my bees seem to like them. 🙁

    • Christine September 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      Thanks for the update Lisa, and please keep us posted. I hope the mites wipe out the bindweed on your property; it’s encouraging to hear that they will winter over in the root system. Sorry to hear the bindweed exploded this year for you. 🙁

  12. cynthia September 4, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    oh boy!
    and I thought that one was such a pretty little weed – before you put a name on it for me.
    Last week, my husband took a weed wacker through my beautiful garden of weeds . . . . I’m pretty sure the bindweed was in full bloom….
    yep – looks like I may have a little problem on my hands….

    • Christine September 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      Oh great. Sorry to hear that Cynthia. 🙁

  13. Arlette September 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    Hopefully you can catch it before it gets established. But If you have it, chances are it’s elsewhere in your neighborhood. In that case, even if you can get rid of it, more than likely it will show back up again as the seeds can end up on your property. We manage ours. The bindweed battle is never ending. Learned the hard way that we can’t get rid of it completely. We use mulches, like thick layers of cardboard (seal edges tightly,no holes/gaps ) to smother it and keep it out of plant beds or pull it when it gets too close to a plant. If never tried Roundup or other herbicides since we have a lot of insects and bee hive. I kinda think bind weed will just adapt to it. Let us know if your approach works. Would love to get rid of ours but I know we can’t since it’s all over the little town I live in.

    • Christine September 8, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Sorry to hear that you’re also hip-deep in the stuff. Just can’t seem to get rid of it. I will keep you posted on how well (or not) our approach works.

  14. Arlette September 6, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Good article on bindweed


  15. Matthew January 4, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    Did roundup work?

    • Christine January 6, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

      Yes it did – 90%+ reduction the following year, bringing the problem down to a level we can now manage by hand. We hope to never use it again, but as a way to shock the system and get the problem to a point where we can now manage it, it definitely worked.

  16. jeff February 10, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    We have been fighting bindweed for 10 years. I’ve mulched woodchips (cedar even) a foot deep and it grew through. Cardboard provides great tunnels to the edge. We are thinking of going the roundup route as well. Did you follow your plan or make changes mid way through? It is all through our lawn as well, any advice for that area? Thanks!

    • Christine February 15, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      We’ve been unable to apply the mites because the weather didn’t work out last year, and also because they’re very hard to get. Still planning on getting them when we can. But, the one application of RoundUp knocked it back by 90% or more.

  17. Arvin April 23, 2017 at 11:49 pm #

    Have tried smothering for a year with 4 layer thick plastic. It sets it back but again as others have expressed dormant areas have become active again after the plastic barriers have been removed pior to planned tilling after just 2-3 weeks. I see typically 3-4 very white runners deprived of light but they seem to sit there ready to grow again. Have killed Chinese elm by cutting them down with chain saw, drilling multiple holes in stump about 2-3 in. deep and pouring or injecting with a syringe concentrated roundup into the holes. This has to be done immediately while stump is freshly cut. Had another neighbor did same with weed be gone. There is a main root just under ground on binder weed. Will be trying same technique on that main root. With regards to smothering, I think that technique that stops water and sunlight is slightly better than just stopping sunlight. I tried both techniques. And that’s what I saw at year end but I am still inconclusive be cause it may only mean what I saw and other parts of the plant -seed s and growable parts were still viable and not yet stopped and rendered sterile.

    • Christine May 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

      Good luck – that stuff is nasty. 🙁

  18. Erin April 28, 2017 at 11:45 pm #

    Have you had to apply again? I’m glad to find this thread. I’m strongly opposed to the use of chemicals in my garden and have worked hard to make it as pollinator and nature friendly as possible. But a bindweed monoculture covering the skeletons of my berry bushes and flowering plants isn’t good for anyone. This weed is nasty, it’s making holes in my 5 inch thick asphalt driveway. I covered all my bare spaces with landscape fabric and thick mulch last fall and it’s already making holes in that not to mention it’s coming up in the holes next to every plant I have! I dug down to the main root once and it was as thick as a tree root and about 18-inches down. I didn’t know the trick about cutting at the soil line though it makes sense now that I think about it. I’m sure that’s been part of my problem.

    • Christine May 1, 2017 at 4:36 pm #

      We have not had to reapply, but I do clip it now that is reasonably under control. Don’t pull on the weeds – it sends a message to the root to send up more runners. Always clip.


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