Creeping bellflower season in Calgary will be prolific, horticulturalist says

·3 min read
They may look pretty, but gardeners know the creeping bellflower as a menace.  (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
They may look pretty, but gardeners know the creeping bellflower as a menace. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

With a cool and wet start to summer, one Calgary horticulturalist believes this year's crop of creeping bellflower will be prolific.

And the flowering has already begun. The nodding, bell-shaped flowers look pretty — but they're a menace. They trick people with innocent trumpet-shaped blooms that spit out seeds. Below the ground, a vast root system will grow entirely new plants, if left unchecked.

No garden is safe. Even Kath Smyth of the Calgary Horticultural Society is battling the creeping bellflower. She has pulled them from her fenceline and noticed it's taken root in her compost, too.

"My favourite thing about it is its Latin name, because it's called Campanula rapunculoides, so I just refer to it as the punk weed. Some people still call it creeping bellflower. I don't want to call it that. It's a punk."

Her advice is to take away its light sources, pluck leaves and grab the whole plant before it flowers. Smyth said she'll get to work in the fall making sure the root system is eliminated, too.

The manual labour of pulling out creeping bellflowers is the best way to get rid of the weed. Smyth said pesticides don't cut it and can ruin the rest of the garden in the process.

It's a lot of work, and can take years to get under control.

"I win sometimes. Other times, I don't," she said.

Because of this year's cool and wet start to summer, and the current heat wave, the creeping bellflower will put up a fight this year, Smyth said.

Wallis Snowdon/CBC
Wallis Snowdon/CBC

"They're very, very strong right now," Smyth said. "The heat is pushing them all up into flower. And the heat will also force them into an early seeding. So they'll reseed and then we'll get the fall crop of leaves sprouting all over."

In Alberta, this plant is categorized as a noxious weed, which means it spreads widely and rapidly. Calgary homeowners must ensure the weed is under control and doesn't spread to nearby properties.

Even the city has to act to keep the creeping bellflower at bay. Workers have pulled the weed from 17 locations so far this year and amassed 22 large garbage bags.

"We do the exact same thing that we recommend citizens do, which is mechanical control, a.k.a. pulling out the plant before it goes to flower or digging it out after it's gone to flower," said parks spokesperson Anna Blaxley.

It doesn't belong in the compost

Blaxley said it is important to note: this weed doesn't belong in the compost. Once it's pulled, you need to bag it and send it to the landfill.

"You are looking at probably a multi-year project to remove it," she said. "Once you have the plants out, don't compost it."

While an out-of-control yard could warrant a 311 complaint, Blaxley said many people just don't know these flowers are weeds. So her advice is to knock on a neighbour's door, even offer to help with the weeding, before calling bylaw.

And for those shopping for seed mixes, Blaxley said to make sure the packet lists all of the flower varieties on the back. Sometimes people accidentally bring creeping bellflowers home from the garden centre.

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