How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie
Banish this pretty yet pernicious weed with one of these tried-and-true methods.
Creeping Charlie—Glechoma hederacea, also commonly known as ground ivy—is an insidious weed that is both resilient and adaptable, making it very difficult to control. A member of the mint family, in early spring it will quickly fill an empty space with a mat-like cover of small, round, scalloped-edged green leaves punctuated with delicate violet-blue flowers. It’s actually quite pretty, and you often see Variegata, its variegated (and far less invasive) cousin, sold in nurseries as a ground cover or cascading filler for planters.
But don’t be charmed! Left to its own devices, Creeping Charlie can quickly take over landscaping beds, even a lawn. It grows low to the ground in a vining habit, killing everything else around it. It thrives in moist and shady areas, where grass and other plants don’t grow well. If you see it, act fast, or you will have a hard battle later. One of these tried-and-true methods for how to get rid of Creeping Charlie should solve your landscaping trouble.
Before You Begin
While the best way to control Creeping Charlie is to avoid planting it, there are several ways to get rid of Creeping Charlie if it’s already taken hold. Some are more effective than others and some require more physical work or time, so patience helps you prevail. Dealing with invasive plants is like dealing with insect pests: Start with the method that’s least likely to upset the delicate balance of soil, plant, and animal life; then get a little tougher incrementally until you can declare victory.
When implementing any of the methods below, choose a day with no or light breeze; this helps prevent drift of any sprays or of the seeds on the plants you pull. Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when pulling these weeds, since they can cause an itchy rash when handled. Protection of the hands, arms, legs, and eyes is especially essential if you end up using chemical applications.
Once you get rid of Creeping Charlie, replace the weedy ground cover with native alternatives or grasses that tolerate shade.
How to Remove Creeping Charlie by Hand
Manual removal is not recommended for large patches of Creeping Charlie. The task will take far too long, and result in minimal success since this perennial weed spreads by seeds, rhizomes, and creeping stems that can root where they lie. For example, you might pull up the root, but if the plant already flowered and seeded, you just might give those new seeds a soft place to take hold next year. But if you see a plant or two here or there, you can get rid of it with your own two hands quite effectively.
STEP 1: Prune Creeping Charlie to expose the roots.
Don long sleeves and quality but thin gardening gloves. Creeping Charlie can cause skin irritation and itching; some people are even allergic to it. Then, prune the weed by cutting off any loose vines not rooted to the ground. This will expose the areas where you need to pull and dig out the weeds. Grab a kneed pad, if you like, for better comfort.
STEP 2: Grasp the plant by the roots and pull it out.
If the ground is hard and dry, watering the area first to soften it will make for easier yanking. If the roots are particularly deep, loosen the soil around them with a rooting tool or cultivator. As you pull, put plants immediately in a disposal bag; do not leave them lying around.
STEP 3: Make sure that you’ve removed all root pieces from the soil.
When you’ve removed all the Creeping Charlie in sight, dig through the soil with your hands or a cultivator to ensure you’ve gotten any root pieces that have broken off, since they will regenerate and you’ll be right back where you started. Any little bits of the plant left behind, or that go wayward, are bound to reseed themselves.
How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie by Smothering It
You can banish a larger Creeping Charlie patch by depriving it of sunlight for an extended period. Remember, this weed thrives in shade, so you’ll need to cover it and block the sun out completely for this method to be effective. Be aware that any other plants mixed in with the Creeping Charlie will also die, so use this method either where Creeping Charlie has taken over or where you are willing to reseed grass or other plants after the weed is gone.
STEP 1: Completely cover the patch of Creeping Charlie to block sunlight.
Cover the Creeping Charlie with a barrier of newspaper, tarp, or cardboard to completely block sunlight. Extend the coverage 6 to 12 inches beyond the vines and leaves, as the roots underneath the ground can reach further out from what’s above them on the ground. Weigh the cover down with rocks or bricks to keep it from blowing or shifting back and allowing light to reach the plants.
STEP 2: Wait at least a week.
It may take a week—or longer, depending on your soil conditions—to smother the Creeping Charlie. Take a peek under the tarp at the week mark; if there’s any green left, replace the cover for another several days. When Creeping Charlie is shriveled and brown, it’s good and dead!
STEP 3: Remove the dead Creeping Charlie by hand.
Pull the Creeping Charlie out of the ground and dispose of it as you would in the hand-pulling method. Use a handheld cultivator or a stirrup hoe, depending on the size of the area and your willingness to work it on hands and knees. It ought to come out much more easily once dead, and skipping this step could allow Creeping Charlie to grow back from any surviving nodes and roots.
Natural Methods for Getting Rid of Creeping Charlie
Pulling or smothering Creeping Charlie might address a large problem, but inevitably some roots or seeds sneak back into your landscape. If pulling or smothering doesn’t finish the job, many gardeners next turn to an organic solution or DIY approach—and with luck, they don’t have to resort to harmful herbicides. We’ve listed the pros, cons, and application methods for two alternatives below.
OPTION 1: Spray Creeping Charlie with vinegar for limited results.
Many gardeners hear about the weed-killing properties of vinegar and turn to it based on the belief that it does no harm. While certainly more eco-friendly than herbicides, vinegar can harm bees and other important pollinators. It also can damage surrounding grass, so think twice before using it if the Creeping Charlie is mixed in with grass you don’t want to kill.
And although you will see browning of leaves and stems, vinegar does not kill roots, so it is less effective against invaders like Creeping Charlie. If you want to try this approach, you will have to apply vinegar many times to see results, following these steps:
- Mix 2 cups of white vinegar with 1 cup of warm water in a spray bottle.
- Spray the leaves and stems thoroughly, preferably on a sunny day with little wind.
- Watch every couple of days to see when growth returns.
- Spray the greening areas again and repeat as needed.
Horticultural vinegar is more concentrated (at 20 percent acidity vs. 6 to 11 percent for typical) and a little more effective. However, horticultural vinegar is highly corrosive to skin and eyes, much like herbicides, and necessitates the user wearing proper protection. You might have to contact a local extension office or similar service to find horticultural vinegar.
OPTION 2: Use a natural organic citrus oil.
Since the DIY options are limited, the first step to take in applying any weed killer should be to choose an organic solution. Most of these natural formulas include citric acids or citrus oil (oil is less harmful to bees). Those that also contain iron can be more effective on a broadleaf weed like Creeping Charlie. Although organic approaches still kill only exposed leaves, not roots, they are safe to apply again according to the directions and are not harmful to the soil and environment.
These weed killers tend to dissipate more quickly than the often-touted Borax and smell better than vinegar. Try a contact killer with natural ingredients, like one made by Avenger Organics. Take these basic steps, always following the package directions for mixing and using the concentrate:
- Put on long sleeves, gloves, and goggles to avoid splatter with acetic or citric acid.
- Mix the concentrate with water, using the suggested ratio of one part weed killer to three parts water for these hard-to-control weeds.
- Fill a spray bottle or garden sprayer with the shaken solution.
- Spray directly on leaves until they are thoroughly and evenly covered.
- Reapply if large weeds begin to regrow.
Think twice about using Borax, a common household cleaner.
Boron, sold as Borax, is a laundry soap made of a naturally occurring chemical (sodium tetraborate). Although a few studies have stated it is effective at eradicating Creeping Charlie, results are mixed, and the solution can injure healthy plants nearby. The boron does not dissipate like vinegar does.
Borax must be mixed with water and applied no more than once a year for two years. It leaves little room for error if you have plants around the area you treat. Most of all, it is not approved for weed control, and applying it to Creeping Charlie in your lawn could be illegal.
How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie Using Herbicide
If Creeping Charlie has infiltrated your lawn, you can’t very well smother it without killing your grass. It will also be nearly impossible to pull out manually, since it will be entangled with the roots of your turf.
Stumped on how to get rid of Creeping Charlie on your property? The right herbicide might work best, but heed this warning: Many of these plant poisons are not selective. Many (especially glyphosate) kill whatever they touch, not just weeds, so read product labels carefully and choose a broadleaf herbicide containing triclopyr, a chemical that will kill Creeping Charlie from root up, but not harm your turf grass.
Of course, your lawn is one thing, but other safety issues lead to recommendations of herbicides as the last resort in your weed wars. Although the FDA has approved use of triclopyr, it does have a low to moderate toxicity rating for people and wildlife, depending on the form and amount of exposure. For example, the ester form can cause eye irritation. Most herbicides are unhealthy for children who play on sprayed lawns, and large-scale use of the products can increase risk for various illnesses such as cancer in children and pets.
In addition, herbicides like triclopyr can enter groundwater and waterways, potentially contaminating drinking water supplies and harming fish and other invertebrates. Be sure to look at the other active ingredients when purchasing herbicides with triclopyr. Some products are mixed with even more toxic chemicals like “2, 4-D,” so avoid those.
Dicamba also can help control Creeping Charlie, but will only suppress it, proving about as effective as the natural controls above. It’s also been shown to be one of the most volatile herbicides; it can transform from a liquid to a vapor in warm temperatures. If it drifts through your landscape, dicamba can kill other plants. So, if you have to resort to an herbicide, go with the most effective choice—triclopyr.
STEP 1: For best results, use herbicide a day before or after the first frost.
You can spray Creeping Charlie with herbicide anytime during the growing season, but it will be most effective if you treat it in the fall, when it’s preparing for winter dormancy. Spray right before or right after the first frost, and it will store the herbicide along with its winter nutrients.
If you spray earlier, be sure to spray once again before winter. Your best chance of eliminating Creeping Charlie is to weaken it going into the cold season.
STEP 2: Don protective gear and prep your herbicide.
Put on protective gloves, clothing, and eyewear. Mix the herbicide in a garden sprayer according to the manufacturer’s directions. If you get the herbicide on your clothes, it is best to dispose of them.
STEP 3: Concentrate the spray on the Creeping Charlie.
Spray the herbicide on the Creeping Charlie, being careful to soak all the leaves, while avoiding nearby garden plants (other than grass) as much as possible. Store or dispose of any remaining spray according to the manufacturer’s directions. Do not mow for at least two days after spraying, so that the chemicals can be absorbed down into the roots of the plant.
STEP 4: Maintain your lawn to prevent the return of ground ivy.
Control regrowth of Creeping Charlie long term by preventing it from growing in the first place. A thick, healthy lawn of turf grass is inhospitable to weeds—there’s simply no room for them. Maintaining your lawn’s overall health will ensure Creeping Charlie, and other pesky weeds, can’t get a foothold.
Getting rid of Creeping Charlie is not fun or easy, but it is possible. You’ll have more success if you try any of the suggested methods—hand-pulling, smothering, DIY and organic controls, or broadleaf herbicides—on immature plants. So don’t put it off.
Cultural control—increasing the ability of other plants to compete with weeds like Creeping Charlie—is your best bet for prevention of the weed in the first place or after clearing an area of it. Planting more appropriate, less invasive alternatives that can handle the same growing conditions can control the weed in the most eco-friendly way by competing with it.
For example, plant shade-tolerant grasses that can compete with the weed and keep it from taking over. Ground cover alternatives include blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) or common blue violet (Viola sororia). Or, once you rid an area of Creeping Charlie, add landscape fabric, mulch, and native plants that will grow in shade.
If you have to resort to using chemicals, be sure to follow all safety information on the product or from local extension experts. This will help keep you, your family, pets, plants, and the environment safer.