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Conquer Creeping Charlie – the Good News & the Bad News about Ground Ivy

Even if you don’t know its name, you likely know Creeping Charlie by sight. Also known as ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea, is a real P.I.T.A. (Persistent Invasive and Totally Annoying).

It’s one of the first things to pop up from the ground each spring, and it quickly covers everything in sight. As anyone with a lawn or garden can tell you, it’s one of the most aggressive weeds out there.

If you’re one of the thousands of home gardeners who have opted for a more natural, organic approach, then this weed is especially bad news.

Creeping Charlie – an Introduction

Creeping Charlie is quite easy to identify; it’s that annoying weed that emerges even before the dandelions each spring. It’s a member of the mint family with square, four-sided stems. The leaves are rounded or kidney-shaped with softly scalloped edges, and every spring between April and June, they are covered with tiny purple funnel-shaped flowers.

Creeping Charlie spreads quickly, becoming a mat of intertwined creeping stems (these are called stolons). It often manages to cover over existing plantings in flower beds and crowd out turf grass on lawns.

Part of its aggressive nature is owing to how easily it reproduces. It grows from seeds produced from the flowers, and rhizomes below the soil, and it puts down roots anywhere a node (where a leaf is on the stolon) touches the ground.

Hmm, you can tell it’s a member of the mint family, can’t you?

Ground ivy gets a hold in areas where turf grass struggles: shady areas with damp, unfertile soil. One of the more likely places where it can start is beneath trees where it’s cool and moist. Once it starts growing, it doesn’t take much for it to penetrate your lawn proper and spread until it’s everywhere.

Creeping Charlie is also an allelopathic plant, meaning it secretes naturally occurring compounds into the ground that suppress the germination of nearby plants. This handy little trick is what gives Creeping Charlie an unfair advantage.

An interesting tidbit: Glechoma hederacea is thought to have been brought over from Europe by settlers looking for a shade-tolerant ground cover. Well, it worked, I guess. A bit better than expected. We’ve been fighting it ever since.

Creeping Charlie isn’t even great for pollinators, as the flowers don’t have much nectar.

Controlling Creeping Charlie

Here’s the bad news.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any organic or natural methods of control that work to the point of eradication. Even the methods of control that use chemical herbicides don’t guarantee results like that.

Pull it Up

Removing it by hand is on par with putting beads on a string with no knot in the end. (My great-grandmother’s favorite way of describing housework.) But this may be enough to beat it back for a season.

The problem is you have to remove every part of it; otherwise, the stolons will reattach, and it will keep on growing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve yanked it out of my flower beds and tossed it to the side, only to find the part I pulled up growing where I tossed it a few days later.

Smother It

If you’re fighting to regain control in your garden or flower beds, smothering ground ivy can be effective. Whether you use mulch or cover areas with cardboard or landscape cloth, you’ll need to keep the area covered for a minimum of several months.

Borax is a Bust

Some have touted Borax as a good natural remedy. Unfortunately, it’s a bust. The active ingredient in Borax is boron, which will kill off Creeping Charlie. However, you have to get the concentration just right. It has to be potent enough to kill off the ground ivy but not kill off your grass or other plants. Also, plants take up boron differently depending on whether or not the soil is acidic or alkaline, meaning you could be adding boron to your soil, but the ground ivy may not even take it up.

Creeping Charlie can even grow through the winter in some areas.

Your Best Natural Bet

Your best bet in the natural war against Creeping Charlie is to improve your soil so that your turf grass grows better. Creeping Charlie grows best in moist, poor soil. Fertilize and aerate your soil, trim trees up higher so that light can get beneath them. Plant appropriate turf grass for your climate and mow your grass so that it’s 2.5 – 3” high. This is a slow and steady approach that may take several years to see your efforts pay off.

If you aren’t willing to live with Creeping Charlie and you have a completely infested lawn, your only course of action may be to tear up the turf and the weeds and completely reseed your lawn. However, if you don’t improve your soil, you’ll be reinfested with ground ivy at some point in the future.

Plant Competing Plants

Planting other creeping plants that out-compete ground ivy can be the answer in some scenarios. Although, you’ll need to make sure you aren’t replacing one invasive plant for another and ending up with the same problem in a different plant.

Solomon’s Seal is a beautiful perennial that does well in shade.

This can be especially useful under trees where Creeping Charlie gets started. Find a shade-loving perennial that will crowd out the ground ivy, such as lily-of-the-valley or Solomon’s seal.

The Down & Dirty Methods

Post-emergent herbicides seem to be the only reliable method of controlling Creeping Charlie. These are best applied in the spring and the fall. Even these need several applications per season, and it can take a couple of years for you to eradicate this noxious weed.

While I don’t recommend the use of chemical herbicides, I want to provide you with the best information I have so you can make your own decision.

Another Option

Of course, there’s still another option in the battle against this creeping menace – put down your weapons and call a truce.

We have long given up on the idea of a weed-free lawn at our place. I’d say there’s more white clover and moss than there is grass. But that’s okay by us.

Creeping Charlie is soft under bare feet, and it smells like mint when crushed, which makes for a pleasant stroll around the yard.

And you can eat it.

Whenever I’m faced with a weed, my first thought isn’t, “How do I get rid of it?” but rather, “Can you eat it?” I’m all about free food that I don’t have to grow myself.

Despite being in the mint family, Creeping Charlie tastes a bit more like spinach, and the leaves are bite-sized, making it perfect for salads long after my lettuce has bolted. Not to mention, our chickens love it, too.

So, until a better solution comes along, I’ll keep yanking it out of my flower beds and feeding it to my hens. As aesthetically pleasing as a weed-free lawn is, they’re entirely too much work, in my opinion. Plus, I like looking out and seeing the busy activity of bees buzzing about my weedy lawn. Of course, your mileage may vary.


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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,

Tracey
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