How to Get Rid of Wild Violets and Ground Ivy

Wild violets and ground ivy can be considered some of the most difficult-to-control weeds in a lawn. They can drive homeowners crazy with their efforts to rid their lawns of these weeds with little or no success. The key to getting rid of ground ivy and wild violets is knowing the best time to apply control products.

wild violet

How Do Wild Violets Grow?

Even though they are a nuisance, wild violets can be very pretty. They have beautiful, short-lived flowers that can range in colors from white to blue to purple. When my sister and I were children, we would pick wild violets that grew in a forested area near our house and give them to our mother. Now, you can purchase these plants as a garden perennial. In a home lawn, they grow best in shady areas where the desired grasses have a more difficult time growing. This allows them to easily spread by both seed and through underground root systems called rhizomes. The leaves on violets are very tough, making it more difficult for weed control products to penetrate the surface. The extensive root structure spreads underground, allowing this weed to creep out of flower beds and into your lawn. Even when dug up, if any pieces of the root is left behind, the plant will regenerate and begin anew. This fact has really made the wild violet a difficult weed to remove from unwanted areas in your landscape.

How Does Ground Ivy Grow?

Ground ivy was an import from England, where it has acquired some colorful names such as creeping charlie. In England, it is also known as Gill-over-the-Ground, Cat’s Foot or Runaway Robin. Creeping charlie is probably the most descriptive name as it reproduces by seeds and also by long, above ground runners called stolons. The stolons wind their way through the grass, pushing down roots and sending more stolons creeping throughout your lawn. Ground Ivy prefers shady sites, but has been found growing in full sun. The plant has square stems and is a member of the mint family. A strange characteristic of ground ivy is that when mowed, it has a strange strong pungent smell. I guess it doesn’t carry the family trait of the pleasant smell of mint.

How Do I Get Rid of Them?

Late fall is the best time to apply weed control and get rid of wild violets and ground ivy. The reason for this is that plants are in the process of moving food into the root systems in the fall. Therefore, the weed control products will move down into the root system, providing better control. A follow-up application may also be needed in the spring when the plants are flowering.

It may take two or three years to get these weeds under control. Since both of these weeds prefer shady locations, overseeding with more shade-tolerant grasses may help. If it is too shady for grass to grow, you may need to switch from grass to ground covers or mulch. You will still need to control these weeds before switching and fall is still the better time to do so.

Winter Weed Control on Warm-Season Grasses

With the colder weather hitting the states lately, we don’t need to be worrying about weeds, right? Wrong! Areas with warm season grasses, like Alabama, can still have a weed problem even when the turf goes dormant.

Except for parts of Florida, most warm season grasses enter into a dormant state during the winter. They will turn brown and not green-up until next spring through early summer. Even though the grass turns brown, there are still weeds that continue growing throughout the winter dormant period.

These broadleaf weeds are basically classified into annuals and perennials. They can also be broken down into winter germinating and summer germinating weeds. Some weeds germinate in the fall/winter, grow throughout that period and then die when the warm weather returns next year. Winter germinating weeds will produce flowers and seeds during that time, which will then germinate again next year. That’s why winter weed control on warm season grasses is so essential—applying a weed control application or two during the dormant-turf period will help to eliminate these weeds from your lawn.

Most broadleaf weed control products will take care of the majority of the winter germinating annual weeds like Henbit, Large Hop Clover and Chickweed. One good thing about warm season grasses turning brown in the winter is that a non-selective weed control product like Round-Up can be used on grassy weeds like annual bluegrass and Dallisgrass. Be sure the desired grasses are completely dormant, but that the grass you wish to control is still green and growing before using Round-Up.

Winter is also a good time to apply a pre-emergent weed control product to prevent many annual grasses from germinating. As the name implies, these products will control problem weeds, like crabgrass, from germinating.

Even though your yard may be brown during the winter, there are still a few tasks that you can do to have a more weed-free lawn next year. Talk to your local Spring-Green professional to find the right program for your lawn and budget!

What to Do First: Reseeding or Top Dressing? – Spring-Green Lawn Care Tips

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Lawn Care Tips: Reseeding and Top Dressing

The following is a question-and-answer exchange between a homeowner and Harold Enger, the Director of Education at Spring-Green. Harold provides some expert tips on two important lawn care practices—reseeding and top dressing—and stresses the importance of doing them in the right order. He also addresses the best time to weed and feed.


“I planted about an acre of grass last spring. It has come in nicely, however, I do have a question. I would like to reseed and top dress the entire area. I would also like to “weed and feed”. Which should I do first and how long do I wait in between?”


Mr. Campbell,
Thank you for sending in your question. I am glad to read that you had good success in your seeding efforts last year. Top dressing is a good idea, especially if you have areas that have eroded or sunken over the last year. A good way to incorporate new seed into an existing lawn is to first core aerate the lawn. This will help to relieve any compaction issues, and it will also provide a good site for the seed to germinate. After aerating, it’s time for top dressing: spread either pulverized top soil or a good quality humus compost across the lawn. You don’t need much—about a quarter inch or so is adequate. Then, go ahead and reseed. Be sure to invest some money in the seed and get good quality, weed-free seed. There are numerous blends available. I am assuming that you used a bluegrass/ryegrass blend. I suggest that you use a mix of 20% bluegrass and 80% perennial ryegrass. The reason why I suggest more ryegrass is that it germinates in 5 to 7 days, whereas bluegrass takes 28 days to germinate. It is difficult for most homeowners to maintain adequate watering for 28 days unless they have a sprinkler system.

You will not be able to apply conventional crabgrass control products before or after reseeding, as they will prevent your new seed from germinating. In regards to broadleaf weeds, like dandelions and clover, you need to wait until the grass has germinated and has been mowed three times before applying that type of product. I do suggest you apply a fertilizer after seeding. I suggest you look for a product with an analysis of 14-14-14 or similar and supply about .75 to 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. For that product, in a 50-lb. bag, you would apply about 5 to 6 pounds of product per 1,000 sq. ft. If your lawn area is an acre, then you would purchase between 5 and 6 50-lb. bags of a 14-14-14.

Looking for some additional lawn care tips?
You can ask Harold a question directly on his Ask the Expert blog.

Indicator Weeds and What They Tell About Your Soil


I recently attended the Lawn Care Summit, a program sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network, the lawn care industry’s professional organization. One of the talks centered on indicator weeds and what they tell. Often, weeds can be used as an indicator of other turf problems.

Turf will grow best in full sun and in deep, fertile, well-drained soils . Unfortunately, most lawns don’t have the luxury of having the best growing conditions to develop into a healthy lawn. Shade, compacted soil, foot traffic, insect, diseases, weeds, thatch build-up and improper management are common problems of home lawns. Indicator weeds can shed light on which issues your lawn faces.

The speaker, Dr. John Sorochan from the University of Tennessee, stated, “Weeds do not cause bad turf—they are the cause of bad turf.” In other words, weeds will grow because the growing conditions favor their development.

These weds indicate compacted soils:

  • Virginia Buttonweed
  • Prostrate Knotweed
  • Puslane
  • Goosegrass

These weeds indicate low soil nitrogen levels:

  • White Clover
  • Black Medic

These weeds indicate poor drainage:

  • Nutsedge
  • Annual Bluegrass

These weeds indicate too much shade:

  • Moss
  • Violets
  • Nimblewill
  • Japanese Stiltgrass

These weeds indicate acidic soils:

  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Ground Ivy
  • Cinquefoil

This weed indicate alkaline soils:

  • Broadleaf Plaintain

If you see these weeds growing in your lawn, it may be due to a cultural problem and not because your lawn care company is doing a poor job caring for your lawn.

Plant Identification: White Snakeroot


Over the years, I have received many pictures of problem lawns and landscape plants. Most of them I am able to identify, but occasionally, I am stumped. That is when I go to a network of professionals and colleagues to help me identify or diagnose what may be the cause of the problem or identify the plant. I recently needed to go to my plant identification “helper” list to help me identify a weed that I didn’t even know existed.

Kenny Gute, franchise manager from our Boone, Iowa franchise likes to send me pictures of diseases, insects and other flora and fauna that he comes across in his daily work. The last one he sent me was a real puzzler and I had no idea what the plant was or how he could treat it.

I first sent a picture of the weed to a colleague, Scott Wanzor, from PBI Gordon, a company that specializes in the manufacture of weed control products. He did not know what the weed was, so he sent it to Dr. Bert McCarty at Clemson University. Dr. McCarty is a well-known weed scientist in the Southeastern US, but has never been to Iowa, so he didn’t know what it was.

Even though he did not know, one of his grad students was able to ID it as white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. Pretty cool! In the meantime, another colleague from PBI Gordon, who was copied on the e-mail, Dr. Gary Custis, confirmed the identity of the weed. He responded that he has seen it before, but didn’t know what it was called. He did know, as a beekeeper, that he needed to keep his bees away from the plants when they are in bloom because when bees go to the flowers his honey becomes bitter. Bees don’t mind it, but people cannot consume the honey.

Wow! That sounded ominous, so I looked up the weed to learn more about it. White snakeroot is a native plant and can grow as high as three feet. Leaves and stems of the plant contain tremetol, which is extremely poisonous. If it is consumed by cows in a large enough amount, the animal can develop a condition known as “trembles.” If humans drink the milk of cows that have ingested a large quantity of white snakeroot, they can develop a condition known as “milk sickness” and it can be fatal. It is said that Abraham Lincoln’s mother died of “milk sickness.”

Fortunately, it can be controlled with many different weed prevention products. If there are just a few plants, they can be hand-pulled. Wait until after a good rain when the ground is soft. The best time to do this is in late summer when the plant is in bloom and more easily identified. Wear gloves to be on the safe side.

Fall Lawn Care

End Of Season

Fall lawn care is an important part of ensuring your lawn is healthy and beautiful season after season. Below find tips on the best ways to care for a lawn in the fall, specific to northern and southern regions.

Northern Areas

Aerate your lawn
Fall is the time when a lawn naturally repairs itself from the ravages of summer stresses. You can help this along by aerating to open up your lawn to allow more air, water and nutrients to reach the root zone. Lawn aeration will also help reduce thatch problems.

Most cool season grasses take a beating during the summer and will die due to heat and dry conditions. Fall is the best time to reseed cool-season grasses. If you aerate your lawn first, the seed will have a better chance of survival.

Lawns are beginning to store food and transferring energy downwards to build a stronger root system. Applying a fall fertilizer will promote a stronger root system and healthier turf.

To rake or not to rake?
The answer to this is one of personal preference. I choose to grind up the leaves that fall on my lawn instead of raking them up and  putting them in paper bags that I have to purchase. Research has shown that grinding up leaves and leaving them on your lawn does not contribute to the thatch layer and can actually add to the organic content on your soil.

Control Weeds
There are numerous weeds that start to germinate in the fall, such as dandelions, some thistles and Shepherd’s Purse. Applying a weed control in the fall will lead to fewer weeds in the spring.

Southern Areas

Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers in the fall. You have to allow time for warm season grasses to harden-off before they go into dormancy.  Apply a fertilizer that is higher in potassium (the last number on a fertilizer bag analysis) in the fall.

Control Weeds
As with northern areas, there are numerous winter annual weeds that germinate in the fall. Get these under control before they have a chance to get established in your lawn.

To rake or not to rake?
Even though you may be in an area that does not receive much snow fall, there are still trees that will lose their leaves. Grind them up with your mower instead of raking them up. You will be adding beneficial organic material to the soil.

Why Are There So Many Weeds This Year? – Weed Control & Prevention


The August 27th issue of the Wall Street Journal had an article in the Personal Journal section titled Better Ways to Battle Weeds, written by Anne Marie Chaker. In the article, Ms. Chaker wrote,

“Weeds are bigger and badder this year in most states east of the Rocky Mountains than in recent memory, horticulture experts say. A particularly wet growing season, following a mild winter and last year’s dry summer, has helped weeds flourish, weather experts say.”

She goes on to describe many weeds that seem to be flourishing this year, like crabgrass, lamb’s quarters, field bind weed, creeping Charlie, common chickweed, and on and on. Weeds grow quickly, especially the annual weeds. They have a very short time to germinate, mature, produce a flower and then set seed within a couple of months. If they receive lots of rain and mild temperatures, they will flourish. A single crabgrass plant can produce upwards to 100,000 seeds and so can many other weeds. That may mean that there could be an even bigger problem with weed control next year.

Many customers ask why the weeds in their lawns are not being controlled this year. In order for the weed prevention products that we use to work, the weed has to have germinated at the time of the application. With all the rain, weeds are germinating between applications with much regularity. We can control the ones that are there, but we can’t do much about the ones that germinate after the application.

Spring-Green customers know that each application is guaranteed. If weeds become a problem between applications, they can call us and we will make a return visit at no charge. There is always a chance that weeds will germinate between applications, but this year, Mother Nature is on the side of the weeds. Lots of rain helps your grass to grow and look nice, but it also leads to an increase in weed growth.

Why is Nutsedge Such a Problem This Year?


At our recently held National Training Conference, we had a tradeshow for our many equipment and product vendors. One of our Franchisees asked the representatives of FMC Professional Solutions why there were so many nutsedge plants this year. It was a good question and one that I had asked myself. I am very observant of what is growing in lawns and landscapes wherever I travel and it seems to me that nutsedge has run rampant this year.

FMC makes several weed prevention products that the lawn care industry uses to control nutsedge. Dr. Ken Hutto, Technical Service Development Manager for FMC provided this simple answer.

“Each nutsedge plant has the ability to produce several hundred tubers, or nutlets every year. These tubers can remain viable for 3 years or more in the soil. For much of the US, this has been a wetter than normal year, coming on the heels of a very dry 2012. Each nutsedge plant also produces underground roots called rhizomes, which allows the plant to spread throughout a lawn or landscape. So, the extremely wet year along with an abundance of tubers and rhizomes has provided the perfect environment for the proliferation of nutsedge this year.”

Unfortunately, the problem is going to be even worse next year. The plants that we see this year are busy producing new rhizomes and tubers, which will germinate into new plants next year and so on and so on. There are weed control materials you can apply to nutsedge that will kill off the plants. Now would be a good time to get started doing so before the cooler weather of fall arrives. If you are a Spring-Green customer, call your local office and they can schedule a supplemental application to get the nutsedge in your yard under control.

Here are a couple of interesting facts about nutsedge from Ohio State University:

  1. The botanical name for nutsedge, cyprerus esculentus, translates to “abundant edible sedge.”
  2. The plant was cultivated in Egypt around 400 BC and is still cultivated in parts of Spain.
  3. Pigs find the starchy tuber a delicious treat.
  4. The tubers of most nutsedges are edible. Yellow nutsedge has an almond-like flavor and can be eaten raw or roasted. (Since I have never eaten them myself, I want to state that eating the tubers is something that you can do at your own risk.)
  5. Papyrus, a related species that grows 10 feet tall, was used in ancient Egypt to make paper.

Is Nutsedge Driving You Nuts?


Actually, this grassy weed is not a true grass, it is a sedge and it is called nutsedge. It is a perennial plant that increases in numbers every year.

I find the plant interesting in the fact that it has a triangular stem when viewed in a cross section, a trait found in many other sedge plants. In residential lawns, there are two types of nutsedge, Purple and Yellow. They get their names from the color of their seed heads.

Nutsedge can be found in both cool-season and warm-season turfgrasses. It can spread rapidly from just one plant and quickly overtake desired turf, resulting in an unkempt appearance. It grows much faster than desired turfgrasses. I took this picture two days after this turf was mowed. You can easily see how it already is growing much higher than the surrounding grasses.

Not only does nutsedge produce seeds, it also produces vigorous rhizomes, or underground root structures as well as small tubers, or nutlets, which remain in the ground, even if you pull out each individual plant by hand. New plants will quickly re-grow from the tubers and the problem continues. In the area where I took this picture, there were only one or two plants last year. This year, it covers a much larger area.

Controlling nutsedge often requires specialized weed control products that will eliminate both the top growth as well as the underground vegetative plant parts. It can take a year or more to eradicate this troublesome weed. If you have a small patch, you may be able to limit its spread by continually pulling up any new growth, but if you let it go too long, it will quickly re-establish itself.

Spring is the best time to begin controlling this plant. By mid-June, it is already producing new tubers that will lead to more plants. Like I said in the title, nutsedge will drive you nuts.

Lawn Care Tips #4: Battling Broadleaf Weeds

Weeds are amazing plants. They are able to endure any harsh weather condition that occurs during spring, summer or fall and continue to grow. Winter cold does not seem to faze them, either. Unless they are a summer annual weed that dies off every fall anyway, lawn weeds will start growing again once the weather warms up.

The battle against weeds seems to be an unending one. Even if you follow all the right cultural practices of mowing high, watering on a regular basis and fertilizing during the growing season, weeds still have the ability to find that one little spot where the grass may not be growing as dense as other parts of the lawn and germinate. At this point, you have a choice in dealing with the weed:

• You can live with it
• You can try pulling it out
• You can spray it with a weed control product

What is a weed?

Simply put, a weed is a plant growing out of place. You determine your own definition of which plants you feel are growing out of place. To some people, a few weeds are not a concern. Some people like the looks of a lawn covered with the bright yellow flowers or dandelions. To them, dandelions are not “growing out of place.” To other people, it is an eyesore to see a field of dandelions and they need to be dealt with quickly. I think the problem is not so much the color of the flowers, but the inevitable change from flower to seed head or puffball that causes so much anguish. This process can take as little as one day to occur.

Life Cycle of a Weed

Weeds have several different life cycles. Weeds can live for one year (annuals), two years (biennials), or more than two years (perennials).

• Summer annual weeds germinate in the spring, grow vegetatively, produce a flower and then die with the cold weather of fall. These include knotweed, purslane and common ragweed. Winter annuals germinate in the fall, overwinter in a vegetative state, produce a flower in the spring and die with the warm weather of summer. These include common chickweed, shepherd’s purse and yellow rocket.

• Biennials generally germinate in the spring, grow vegetatively in the first year and then develop a flower the second year. Many thistles are biennials and so is wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace.

• Perennials live longer than two years and include some more “notorious” weeds like dandelion, clover, ground ivy, Virginia Buttonweed and violets.

How to Handle Weeds in Your Lawn

How you want to deal with weeds is up to you. If you are a Spring-Green lawn care customer, you can call your local office and schedule a reapplication of weed control. In most cases, the application is at no charge.

If you are not, then you will have to deal with the weeds yourself. Most annual weeds can be hand pulled, but the majority of biennial and perennial weeds have deeper more extensive roots that require the use of a weed control spray.

NOTE: Be sure to choose the product that can be used on home lawns and does not include the words “…and Grass Control” in the name of the product. Otherwise, you could end up with a lawn that looks like the one in the third photo!