You know the old routine: you live in a temperate zone and plant a beautiful new set of vegetable seedlings only to find your labor of love being cornered by an overgrowth of vines the very next morning. While the aggressive nature of some vines like morning glory can be used to create interesting garden landscapes by wrapping around fences and trellises, vines can also be pernicious weeds that steal sunlight and become so enmeshed with other plants that it's often hard to remove them without damaging the plants you want to keep.
Here are some of the best strategies you can employ to get rid of vines safely without destroying your other plants in the process. In the broadest sense, vines aren't all that different from other weeds, but following these specific steps to target the pests will put you on a path to a vine-free garden.
Early Vigilance Pays Off
One of the best things to do is keep an eye on the tiny little vines early in the season. Their slow growth and small spread might make it seem like they aren't going to do any harm, but don't get complacent! Whenever you can, pull them up by the roots and untangle them from your other plants. It's a simple remedy for vine overgrowth, though it is time intensive, and that's usually what deters gardeners from dealing with the problem early on. However, skipping the work and losing a crop of vegetable plants to an onslaught of vines can be a painful kind of regret. Do yourself a favor and set aside the time for pulling up all these little vines. As an extra precaution, try moving the uprooted plants to another location far away from any vulnerable plants. You'll be saving yourself a lot of work and upkeep down the line.
Best Weeding Strategies
Wait until right after a big rain to go digging in the dirt for your weeding. You might get muddier, but you'll get more of the roots out, which is better in the long run for your garden. Don't let vines continue to climb on a fence or your home just because they are away from your garden. Many vines spread through their runners and seeds, so having them nearby is still a danger to your other plants. Pay close attention and remove as many vines as possible from your property. Get to know which vine weed varieties you're dealing with, and look up some of their specific weaknesses and strengths. Despite all the herbicides that have are formulated for them, there are some weeds, vines included, that can weather the worst of them. So don't bother dousing your garden with progressively stronger poisons trying to tackle a vine that really just needs to be dug up. Speaking of digging, you're almost always better off using a trowel or shovel rather than trying to pry weeds up by hand. For the best results, try digging under the weed's roots first, as it'll allow you to clear a lot more of the root out.
One of the most annoying parts of vine removal is the fact that vines rarely grow upwards on their own, but rather against your trees or other large plants. The cut-vine method makes it possible to treat a whole plant with an intense herbicide without spraying it all over both your favorite tree and the invasive vine. Instead of widespread spraying, clip the vine a few inches from the ground and apply triclopyr weed killer, an organic compound used as an herbicide and fungicide, to the fresh cut. It will absorb into the rest of the plant to kill it off. As with all herbicides, check to see if it's at a concentration where it could harm other plants nearby if any drips off. While triclopyr compounds tend to break down in your soil within 90 days and degrade quickly in water, they're also known to be toxic to ducks and quail, so exercise caution if your garden gets frequent visits from either animal.
As a Last Resort, Roundup
Unfortunately, there are instances where kudzu or another extremely tenacious vine weed gets hold of part of your yard, at which point your best option is to kill the plant off altogether. This may mean sacrificing an area of the yard for the rest of the season, but in the long run, it will make the next season easier. Read up on the particular kind of weed killer you use so you'll know how to treat your soil after using it. For example, Roundup and other intense weed killers break down in the soil within 14 days (and often much sooner than that, depending on other conditions). This option can seem extreme, but remember, you can always regrow the plants that truly matter to you. If you do find yourself having to wait a season to make a second attempt, just make sure you don't make the same mistake twice. Watch your garden like a hawk, and if you see any tiny sprouts of new vines, rip them up immediately.
Vines are some of the most irritating weeds to deal with, but the same general principles apply to removing vines as to many other kinds of weeds. The main difference that gives vines such a stronghold is their ability to focus more resources on growing and spreading. Non-vines must first create stems and stalks that can hold up to the elements before they spread out to attack the rest of a garden.
By investing some time and attention early on, you'll reduce the amount of labor, grief, and herbicide you'll need to pour into keeping your garden healthy. Keep in mind that even the best of techniques aren't guarantees, especially given the amount of invasive ivy and other invasive vines that can grow at many times the rates of our more desired plants. It's an ongoing battle, but you can win it!