Tuesday, June 02, 2015

In the Garden: Dog Strangling Weed

The first time we visited our now home with our real estate agent, she commented on a plant I had never seen before, calling it "Dog Strangling Weed," and indicating we'd need to deal with it quickly if we purchased the home. I didn't think much of it. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than spearmint, could it?

Yes. Yes it could.

It wasn't until our 4th summer in our home that I really made a dedicated effort to eradicate the weed,* and by that time it had made awesome headway.

dog strangling vine with flowers
Glossy green leaves, purplish-pink small flowers.
I not so fondly refer to this weed as a sentient being, likely deposited here by aliens as the first stage of taking over the earth. It really is that aggressive, hardy, and sneaky. I realise it can't actually be sentient (can it?) but it does seem to find the smallest cracks and most difficult to get at places to grow. This extremely invasive plant is alien though, or at least a non-native species that was introduced in the North Eastern US in the 1800s. Native to Eurasia, Dog Strangling Vine is now found in many parts of Southern Ontario. It trails and attaches to trees, fences, itself, whatever, and it will strangle other plants in its way. I have lost three small trees to the vine over the years. The plant spreads via both roots underground and seeds blown by the wind. You must dig up the entire root to remove the plant. Any root fragments left behind will sprout again. Sound easy? This is the root:

dog strangling vine root system

The root clumps are huge and rambling. You need to dig underneath them and then carefully reach down and work them out of the soil, pulling gently but firmly on trailing roots as you go. It's quite satisfying once you get one of the big main root clumps out, but truly a painstaking task to get there.

This is the plant as it's first coming through the soil:

dog strangling vine shoots

Straight, young shoots with tightly closed deep green leaves. It is distinctive and easy to spot. Try to dig these out as soon as you see them. The larger they get the more difficult the task. And once they really start growing they move into flower and seed production quickly. Quick tip: If you find a patch of dog strangling vine that is flowering, or about to, but you don't have time to dig it out right away, quickly rip out or cut the plants below the flowers and dispose. At least you will avoid seed production and distribution. I have done this in desperation a few times, just grabbing and pulling randomly. It will slow down the take-over if nothing else.

And while we are on the topic of disposal, this weed is so invasive and difficult, the City of Toronto does not accept it in either yard waste or green bin disposal streams. It must be sealed in plastic bags and put out as garbage. Ouch. Check with your municipality for proper local disposal guidelines.

There don't seem to be any natural enemies of DSV here, although there are bugs that feed on it and keep it in check in its native Eurasia. Chemical treatment does work, particularly Round-Up, when applied at flowering. Check local regulations on household usage of herbicides.

You can find more information on Dog Strangling Vine and other invasive plant species at Toronto Urban Forestry. A nuisance in the home garden, these invasive species can wreak havoc with local ecosystems and cause major difficulties for farmers. Every effort we can take to combat these problem plants can have much wider benefits beyond our own back yards.

*I had pulled/dug some over the years, but our first summer we were just moving in, and busy inside. Then I was pregnant and exhausted. And the third summer I had a high needs infant that wouldn't let me out of his sight.

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