Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), also known as creeping charlie, is a common weed in many lawns. Ground ivy is a low-growing, creeping, invasive perennial. It spreads by seed and the vining stems (stolons) which root at their nodes. The leaves of ground ivy are round or kidney-shaped with scalloped margins. Stems are four-sided. Flowers are small, bluish purple, and funnel-shaped. Ground ivy thrives in damp, shady areas, but also grows well in sunny locations. A member of the mint family, ground ivy produces a minty odor when cut or crushed.
In small areas, ground ivy can be managed by pulling and digging. This method is best accomplished after a soaking rain or deep watering. Unfortunately, pulling and digging are often ineffective because rarely are all stem and root pieces removed using this method. If the ground ivy is not completely destroyed, surviving portions will continue to grow and spread.
Frequent and persistent removal of ground ivy over the course of several growing seasons as soon as the plant re-emerges may eliminate the weed or keep ground ivy populations low enough to not notice. Persistence is essential to make pulling and digging successful. Rarely are gardeners consistent and persistent enough to remove this weed by hand.
Herbicides to Use For Control
Control of ground ivy in lawns is difficult. If the ground ivy is not completely destroyed, surviving portions will continue to grow and spread. The most effective broadleaf herbicide products are those that contain one or more of the following compounds; 2,4-D, MCPP, dicamba, and triclopyr. The most effective herbicides to use are triclopyr and 2,4-D.
Triclopyr can be found in Ortho Weed-B-Gon Chickweed, Clover, and Oxalis Killer for Lawns and a few other products. 2,4-D is an active ingredient in many broadleaf herbicide products. As always when using pesticides, carefully read and follow label directions.
Populations of ground ivy vary in their susceptibility to broadleaf herbicides. For example, one population of ground ivy may be highly sensitive to 2,4-D, while another population may be somewhat tolerant to 2,4-D. Since ground ivy populations vary in their susceptibility to broadleaf herbicides, it is important to alternate herbicides with different active ingredients or select products with more than one of the effective active ingredients when attempting to control ground ivy.
Apply Herbicides in the Fall
Fall (late September through early November) is the best time to control ground ivy. Spring applications are not as effective. Two broadleaf herbicide applications are necessary to effectively control ground ivy. The first application should be made in late September/early October, the second a month later.
Maintain Healthy Turf to Out-Compete Ground Ivy
Once the ground ivy has been effectively controlled, home gardeners should follow sound cultural practices to promote a healthy lawn. A good nitrogen fertility program along with the use of herbicides will help effectively control ground ivy. Apply 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Nitrogen improves the vigor and competitiveness of Kentucky bluegrass, slowing the spread of ground ivy. An excellent fertilizer program for Kentucky bluegrass lawns consists of applications of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in late April/May, September, and late October/early November.
Proper mowing, fertilization, and other good management practices should help establish a thick, healthy lawn. A dense stand of grass should help discourage future invasions of this aggressive weed.
Hand Pulling is the Most Effective
The best way to control ground ivy in garden areas is by hand pulling and digging. The key to effective control of ground ivy in gardens is persistence. Repeatedly pull and dig the ground ivy and remove the plant debris from the garden area to prevent it from rooting. Thorough removal is important - leave no leaf, stem, or root behind! Once destroyed, maintain clean, weed-free borders around flower and vegetable gardens to prevent the ground ivy from "creeping" back in from adjacent areas.
Herbicides Can Be Used with Caution
Broadleaf selective herbicides should not be applied to flower and vegetable gardens. These chemicals will damage desirable plants along with the ground ivy. Non-selective herbicides, like glyphosate, can be used with care as they will kill any green plant material they contact. Apply non-selective herbicides as a spot treatment to only the ground ivy. Always apply herbicides when winds are calm and temperatures are cool to prevent drift and damage to desirable plants. Protect garden plants with barriers like buckets, boxes, or plastic sheets to further reduce problems with drift. Herbicides can also be applied with a sponge and wiped onto the leaves of the weed to prevent collateral damage to nearby plants.