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How to control wild cucumber

The county fair brought many questions about that pervasive vine with white fragrant flowers that's growing all over our roadsides, trees and yards; that ubiquitous plant, wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata).

This annual vine, native to most of North America, prefers low-lying areas, woodlands, and areas with some shade. The vines grow 25-30 feet long with tendrils that coil around anything they touch. The star-shaped leaves resemble a maple leaf and have five to seven pointed lobes, alternately placed on the stem.

The seed pods are oval, covered with spines and grow up to two inches long. When ripe, they burst open to disperse four flat spindle-shaped brown or black seeds.

If wild cucumber is a weed in your landscape, it is easy to control. Although not considered invasive because it is native to Minnesota, it can create very dense, large patches, seeming to smother everything it covers, but rarely doing much actual damage. In late summer it's easy to spot even at 60 mph, the numerous flowers giving a light green hue to often darker green supporting vegetation.

If possible, pull or hoe the plants early in the spring as soon as they are found. The seedlings look exactly like garden cucumbers. If they are more established, repeated mowing before they set seeds will keep them in check.

If they have progressed to the point that they are growing up into trees and bushes, simply pull them out and discard them. Ideally, get them out BEFORE they go to seed. This will reduce the number of plants in the area over time.

Chemical controls may be used when necessary. Wild cucumber is extremely tolerant to 2, 4-D, the active ingredient in many broad leaved herbicides.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-up, can be applied to young plants early in the season. This product may be used around trees as it will not be absorbed by the roots or bark. However, it also kills almost anything green and growing that it touches, so take care to keep it off desired plants.

Always read and follow directions when using any chemical control.

Until next time, happy gardening!

***

"When life is not coming up roses

Look to the weeds

and find the beauty hidden within them."

― L.F.Young

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