Killing Wild Violets – Tips For Wild Violet Control
Controlling wild violets in the lawn may be one of the most difficult gardening problems a homeowner can face. Those pretty little plants can take over a lawn in just a few short seasons and once they take hold, nothing is as tenacious as the wild violet. Control or killing wild violets in lawn can take years.
Why is Controlling Wild Violets So Difficult?
Wild violets are cool season perennials that grow best in shady, moist soil. There are three problems with these tough little plants that make killing wild violets so difficult. Wild violets have two types of flowers — the pretty purple ones that children gather for their mothers and the plain, unopened ones that shelter beneath leaves that protect them from most types of wild violet control. The purple flowers may be sterile. The flowers beneath the leaves are not only fertile, but self-fertilizing. They don’t need to bloom to reproduce.
Thick clumps of underground stems, called rhizomes, store water so the plants can survive drought. When a gardener tries to kill wild violets in the lawn, the rhizomes survive and send forth new shoots.
Those lovely heart shaped leaves pose the third problem in controlling wild violets. The waxy coating that gives the leaves their shine also prevents herbicides from penetrating the leaves.
Killing Wild Violets
Treatments for controlling wild violets are best applied in the fall as the plants take in herbicides more easily at this time. Spot treatments with an herbicide that kills all vegetation works best for mild infestations, the downside being brown spots dotting the lawn. For broader applications, use granular herbicides. Be sure to check the label to be sure killing wild violets is listed. Concentrates applied with a garden hose attachment will damage the plants but as with most treatments, repeated applications will be necessary to kill wild violets.
The best method of wild violet control is a thick and healthy lawn. The dense roots of the grass will help prevent those pretty little devils from ever taking root.
“Roses are red, violets are blue”? Even if the old poem doesn’t make much sense when looking at the purplish color of violets, one thing is certain. If you have violets all over you lawn, you’re more likely to be “blue”. Wild violets are a persistent perennial weed that property owners can encounter in their lawn. It only takes a few years before this troublesome weed can take over areas of lawns, choking out the grass.
Violets not only spread by seed, but they multiply easily underground. Their root system spreads out to birth new plants through rhizomes. That’s why digging them out is rarely effective. Severing these root parts often promotes more growth as this giant organism tries to stay alive and regrow. To make matters worse, wild violets have a thick, waxy coating on their leaves. This makes applying most herbicides problematic as some materials are not able to thoroughly penetrate leaves, and merely bead off.
Violets can adapt to a variety of environments. They are tolerant of all sorts of stresses that turfgrasses are not, like drought for one. This means as your lawn declines, the violets won’t be phased. You’ll often find a stand of them in a partially sunny to shady area, especially if fertility is low in the soil, and the soil is compacted. Again, not great conditions for turfgrass to grow.
To get rid of violets, you’ll have a harder task than just getting rid of dandelions. Follow these basic principles to win the war on violets:
- Use the right herbicides. You’ll be hard pressed to try to wipe out a violet infestation with your four-step, hardware store, bags of lawn products. Violets will require multiple applications of liquid selective broadleaf herbicide throughout the year. Each time you treat, you’ll notice you won’t entirely kill violets, but rather knock them back some. Professional lawn care companies will have an array of weed control products that they change throughout the year for maximum effectiveness. Some of these materials may not be available to the public for purchase. If the lawn is predominantly violets, you may even want to consider completely killing off sections of your lawn with a non-selective herbicide, such as Round-up, and starting from scratch. This may take a couple applications as well before violets are controlled.
- Create an environment that is best for your lawn. Take a soil test for your lawn and add the necessary treatments to correct soil pH and other deficiencies. You’ll often find violets growing in soil with very low soil pH, which grass doesn’t do so hot in. After you get a good handle on the violet populations, core aerate your lawn. This will relieve soil compaction and improve drainage which your grass plants will prefer.
- Fill in the thin or bare areas. The stronger and thicker you can get your lawn, the less chance violets will stand to spread. Seed your lawn. You can either over-seed during a core aeration or slice-seed areas to help them fill-in with new turfgrass.
- Stay on top of things. It may take a couple years to really get a handle on a big crop of violets. Understand that these weeds are very persistent and will try to come back. Don’t wait until it is a big problem again to start a major war in your lawn. Plan proactively with a good lawn care program to keep these weeds in check.
It is possible to get rid of violets if you are more persistent than they are. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can provide the weed control treatments, soil testing, aeration, or seeding you need to win your violet war, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Getting Rid of Wild Violets
By Ellen Brown
How do I get rid of violets in my yard, they are taking over.
Hardiness Zone: 4a
Mary Jane from Milwaukee, WI
Hi Mary Jane,
Wild violets can be quite problematic to get rid of. The waxy coating on their leaves gives them extra resistance to many of the chemical controls (organic or otherwise) that work on other weeds. The best way to control them is to dig them up. Depending on how widespread they are, this may require several years to accomplish. For cool season lawns like yours, dig them up in the fall. You can reseed over any bare patches with a mixture of cool-season grass seed and compost. Make sure to water the new grass seed daily until it germinates.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that wild violets seem to show up and spread faster in acidic soils and in soils lacking in calcium. Adding lime can help correct pH problems and may slow down their spread, but you will need to have your soil tested to know how much (if any) you need to add.
Proper lawn care can help, too. Give your (cool-season) lawn a good feeding this fall with a slow release organic fertilizer or even better, by spreading one-inch of compost over it followed by a good watering.
Once established, wild violets are almost impossible to eradicate completely, so you may want to try to make peace with the fact that you’re always likely to have a few around. Don’t forget they are edible and lovely when added to salads or used as a garnish.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.
Use vinegar on them. It will kill them in a day or two. Put pure vinegar in a bottle that you can control the spray and spray only the violets. If it gets on anything else it will kill those things too.
I love violets, but they do take over after a while. Maybe some in pots would be nicer. (06/25/2008)
They are edible and taste like a delicate lettuce. Don’t spray and kill them. Add them to your food after rinsing them in a bowl of veggie rinse water. Lucky you. I have only one or two left. I’m trying to nurture them for a harvest.
God bless you. (06/26/2008)
“Do not use” 2,4-D as someone suggested. It is extremely toxic and is outlawed in some states and can only be used by licensed lawn professionals. I have simply taken the time each year to dig them out and it has taken me 3 years, but each year is easier. This year they are minimal and I hope by next year it will only be a plant or two. (06/28/2008)
(sent in by email)
My yard is full of them, after 10 yrs. of fighting them, I found straight bleach works great, but it does kill the grass. I am at a point I don’t care, I can replant it, after a day you see it working. Good Luck.
If large areas of lawn are affected, violets can be killed selectively with Trimec (a combination of 2,4-D, MCPP and dicamba) or triclopyr (Turflon). Turflon is the herbicide of choice for the lawn industry, but Trimec is more readily available. Two or more applications may be needed. Improve the health of the lawn to reduce the reoccurrence of violets. (07/14/2008)
One word “Speedzone” does the trick early in spring or late in fall. During summer nothing will help because they form some sort of waxy protective coating. Smart little buggers they are. (07/20/2008)
My local garden shop suggested a solution of:
- 4oz. brush killer
- 1oz. Fertilome Weed Out
- 3 drops of detergent (Ivory Liquid)
Mix that with one gallon of water and your done or 1oz. for the sprayer. I will give it a shot and let you know how it turns out.
By Robert M.
Well I did it and voila it works. Looks like another application and my violets are gone, finished, fini, caput, history. It did not have any adverse reactions on my grass. It took at least two good weeks to see the dieback. In the past I have always seen it come back, but these leaves are brown and shriveled to nothing.
By Robert M. Jr.
Egads! These are my very favorite flower. I even carried a few in my wedding bouquet. Growing up in the country made me fall in love with them. I have a few in my yard now (I live in the city) and I scandalize the Scott’s yard man by refusing his offer to get rid of them. If you haven’t put chemicals on them they make a beautiful addition to a gourmet salad and look amazing on a pale colored cake. (09/04/2008)
Are these some kind of violets? (09/21/2008)
By Mary Kay
Yeah some people get mad for getting rid of them, but I’ve let them go for 10 years and between creeping charlie and them my yard had no grass. The problem with them is they have such a thick bulb like root and some surface a little and when your walking around barefoot they don’t feel to good. Another reason for grass is not to have dirt/mud that can be tracked into your house, etc.
I dug some up and put them in my flower garden. Then I started digging them up out of my lawn. I used a thicker steak knife and just lifted. It seem to work the best when the soil is a lil dry not bone dry. I couldn’t believe the look of my yard after I dug them up and spread grass seed. The holes in case you were wondering are as big as a pencil.
The plant seem to do more damage than digging them up. To some what get them under control. I did this at first and it worked well. Apply Weed B Gone then 4 days latter I applied Bayer (it’s newer and works great) weed killer, but not lawn killer. Then 1 1/2 weeks later I did another application. It seemed to weaken their leaves enough to let the chemical in and kill a lot of them off.
Your yard might lose some green, but fertilize and it comes right back. The weed killer also killed off almost all of my creeping charlie. It is best applied in fall because that is when the leaves suck up nutrients for the winter. Good luck and keep me posted. (10/29/2008)
I find controlling the violets means taking excellent care of the grass. Fertilize it, water it and cut it high with a very sharp blade on a regular basis. The healthier your grass is the easier time it has crowding the violets out. Those that do make it in can be pulled up without difficulty when the soil is pretty wet: the bulb comes out with the root. My neighbors’ yards are full of violets and I have to be pretty diligent to keep them out of mine. (06/26/2009)
By Doug Skaalrud
At Last! An Easy Way to Kill Violets
Never abandon hope is the lesson I impart today. On a recent Grumpy Gardener page in Southern Living, I sadly broke terrible news to a reader whose lawn and garden was submerged with violets. There is no spray to kill violets, I said. The only control is getting down on your hands and knees and digging nonstop for approximately 18 years.
I can hear the chorus coming from dismayed readers. “Why would anyone want to kill violets? They are beautiful and charming native wildflowers.”
That they are. But common dooryard violets (Viola sororia) are one other thing too. Extremely invasive. In the lawn or the garden. In the sun or the shade. If you see one this year, next year you’ll see a dozen. Then a hundred. Then a thousand. Then a veritable sea of violets will fill your yard from shore to shore. The fiends nearly choked out my beautiful lawn of native mosses. I dug up buckets of them.
These violets spread so quickly because they’re sneaky. They don’t just develop seeds from the pretty, blue, purple, or white flowers you admire in spring. Most seeds come from weird, pale flowers resembling mung bean sprouts that hide at the soil line under the foliage. They sow seeds all summer without the need for pollination.
Each seed that sprout grows a thick root that looks like a tiny horizontal carrot. Even if you dig it, any piece of the root left in the ground grows another violet. This root also makes the violet resistant to weedkillers available for home use.
Image zoom emMeet the violet killer./em
I recently received a communique from Monterey Lawn & Garden Products about a weedkiller called Spurge Power. In addition to killing tough weeds such as spurge (duh), oxalis, ground ivy (creeping Charlie), and many others, Spurge Power actually KILLS violets!
What wonderful news. If Grumpy could cry, he would.
You can order Spurge Power from Monterey website (click on the link above) or buy it at garden centers. As always, follow label directions carefully. And no, I received nothing from Monterey for alerting you to this product.
Violets, meet your Kryptonite! Laugh at us no longer. For so long, you held our gardens hostage. Now freedom is at hand!
Aug 6, 2016
The attached pictures are some kind of “weed” that is taking over our beds. What is this & how do we get rid of it?
The weed in question is wild violets. They are tenacious to say the least, and getting rid of them is difficult if not impossible. They have a small bulb or corm underground and spread quickly. While some gardeners like them for their showy spring blooms I detest them. They are a host for our state butterfly the Diana. Spot spraying with a product containing glyphosate (Round-up) can help. I weed-eat them to the ground and put cardboard and mulch over them and they are “gone” for the season, but back strong the next year.
May 1, 2016
I need help with weed control. I have what appears to be a weed with small purple blooms and heart shaped leaves in my garden. It seems to be quite an invasive weed. It seems to spread by runners. I have never seen it in my yard before, and it is getting in my lawn and my flower beds. I am uncertain how to fight it.
The weed in question is quite invasive—it is the common violet. It does have pretty purple blooms in the spring, but you start out with a couple of plants and pretty soon the entire yard is covered. It has a small bulb or corm underground which multiplies and the more you mow, the more it spreads. It is tough to kill, but a broadleaf herbicide with 2,4-D and dicamba can slow it down in the lawn, or try to dig up some of the clumps if it is just getting started. You can also spot-spray with Round-up in flower beds, making sure to only spray what you want to kill.
March 26, 2016
I had no idea how invasive the little wild violets are!!! I have always thought they were cute and pretty. I have a huge pot of them and water them all summer and keep it until the next year. But—since I moved to the country, namely Mountain Home, I have been invaded by these little devils. They are everywhere—my flower yard, my raised bed gardens. I have pulled enough of them to cover the whole county. I was doing a really good job of pulling the little clumps of them and getting rid of nearly all of them last spring when, a dreaded thing happened—a snake moved thru and I left the rest to him. I am deathly afraid of any kind of snake. I didn’t get all the violets pulled before they died down. I know I will have the same to do over again this spring. Do you have a solution to my problem?? Since they have a bulb, how do they go from one part of the yard to the other side or to the pots?
Have you considered moving again?! LOL. However all jokes aside, you will probably fight wild violets for the rest of your life. I fight them every year and each year I think I have gotten a handle on them, and the following spring they are back every bit as strong. They multiply rapidly by producing more bulbs underground, and every flower that is left in place can produce seeds which also help spread them. They usually get started in shadier areas of the yard that don’t have as much competition and then they spread. I do not have them in my raised beds, but they are in all the shade gardens and adjacent lawn areas. As soon as I see them, I weed-eat them at the soil level and keep doing that. I put down cardboard or newspaper and then mulch over that. It does help but they aren’t gone. If you can spot spray with Round-up that will give you some control, but that doesn’t work in the lawn and mine are too inter-planted with other perennials and shrubs. If you have the time and patience to dig up the plants and bulbs, which will definitely help, but you will probably miss some. A spray with 2,4-D in the lawn can manage them, but not completely kill them, and that is only for lawn use. Let’s hope the snake has moved on!
December 5, 2015
In the spring of this year before the perennials started to come up, my flower bed was almost covered with wild violets. Needless to say I did not want them. Is there anything I can do ahead of time to kill them before they start in 2016? Would appreciate any help you can offer.
I am in the same boat as you are—or should I say garden!? Wild violets are very difficult to control without chemicals, and even with chemicals are difficult. I have them so mixed in with perennials and shrubs, that herbicides are out of the question. I attack regularly with a weed eater in the spring and early summer, and then put down cardboard or newspapers under the mulch and around the desired plants. It gives me a season free until the next year. I am hoping to eventually wear them out, but I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future. Pre-emergent herbicides won’t work on perennial weeds, which wild violets are. If you have the stamina to dig and sift out the tiny bulblets, that can help but I doubt you will get them all
Wild violets are spreading into our monkey grass. We’ve pulled it from the beds pretty well, but now it is entwined with the monkey grass. Short of digging up the monkey grass and getting the weeds out, is there another solution? Thanks for any help.
Unfortunately, the answer is not promising. Anything that would kill wild violets would also kill monkey grass. Both are tough plants, and hard to kill, but killing one would lead to the death of the other. I think wild violets are the worse I have ever seen them this year—I know I have been weed eating and pulling them for weeks. If you can spot spray and just get the herbicide on the violets, a glyphosate (Roundup) product could help, but even that would need more than one application.
I’ve heard that wild violets can take over flower beds. Will they hurt azaleas? I’ve also heard that azaleas don’t like to be disturbed. Is it ok to pull weeds under the azaleas or should I just keep them trimmed?
Wild violets are tenacious and can spread quite rapidly. Many folks enjoy the colorful flowers in the spring, but despise the foliage all summer. I really don’t think violets will hurt your azaleas that badly, although a few this year will multiply to many more next year. Violets along with any other weed can compete for water and nutrition, but they are shallow rooted. That is probably why you heard azaleas don’t like to be disturbed, their shallow roots make them more susceptible to damage from groundcovers or other plant competition. Violets have a small underground corm or bulb which aids in their spread. Pulling them out or hoeing would be better than just trimming and would not hurt your azaleas.
I recently purchased a home with a Bermuda lawn, but the previous owner planted violets in the flower beds and they had spread all over the lawns. How do I get rid of them without losing the grass?
Wild violets are not an easy plant to kill. They have a small bulb or corm underground and multiply quite readily. Herbicides containing 2,4-D will give some control, but are best used when the weather is a bit cooler. It will take multiple applications. Spot spray heavily infested areas with a glyphosate product (Round-up) but be aware this product will kill grass as well. You could
also dig them out, making sure to get the bulb along with the tops, but that is also hard work! Good luck.
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