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Ground Ivy or 'Creeping Charlie'

Ground ivy is a tough weed to eliminate from your lawn

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. Ground ivy has just about taken over my front and back lawns. Can you recommend anything to help me get ground ivy under control in my lawn?

A. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is one of the most troublesome and difficult to control weeds in both lawns and garden beds. Also known as Creeping Charlie or gill-over-the-ground, ground ivy is a member of the mint family. For those familiar with the aggressive nature of the mint family in general, ground ivy's tenacity is no surprise. It spreads by seeds, as well as by rooting in wherever its vining stem touches the ground.

Positive Uses for Ground Ivy

You may be surprised to learn that early colonists brought ground ivy with them for culinary and medicinal purposes. It was used to flavor beer for many years, until it was replaced by hops. Although it is not native to North America, ground ivy has naturalized and is found throughout Pennsylvania, the northeastern United States, and southern Canada. While ground ivy prefers damp, rich soils, and thrives in the shade, it will grow in full sun and less than ideal soil just as happily.

Ground Ivy
Ground Ivy taking over a lawn

Left to its own devices, ground ivy forms a dense mat that quickly crowds out other plants. Getting it under control in a lawn situation is not simply a matter of getting rid of the ground ivy. It is equally important to follow best practices for maintaining a healthy lawn, or else the ground ivy will grow back from seed and you will be back to square one.


Cultural practices that help your lawn outcompete ground ivy include:

Raising your mower's cutting height to 2.5 to 3 inches. The taller height of cut allows the grass to shade out germinating weed seeds and helps it maintain a more extensive root system. A more extensive root system helps your lawn survive summer heat and drought.

Try not to remove more than one-third of the grass blade at one time - this may mean that you have to mow more frequently when the grass is growing vigorously in spring. Staying within the "one-third rule" allows the grass to maintain a healthy reserve of carbohydrates.

Have your soil tested and follow the recommendations for limestone to raise soil pH (or sulfur to lower soil pH) and fertilizer applications. Maintaining proper soil pH and fertility levels is important for optimum performance of your lawn.

If the area stays moist, take steps to improve drainage in the area. Soil that stays constantly moist favors the growth of ground ivy and can cause grass roots to rot.

If the area is heavily shaded, consult with a certified arborist to thin and raise the crown of large trees. If that is not an option, consider replacing the grass with shade-tolerant ground covers such as wild ginger (Asarum canadense), European ginger (Asarum europaeum), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), hostas (Hosta spp.), creeping lily-turf (Liriope spicata), Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), Allegheny foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), creeping myrtle (Vinca minor), or Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).

Other Control Options

There are a few options for getting rid of the ground ivy, including hand weeding. Although it is monotonous, pulling ground ivy by hand will eventually get rid of it, but you have to stay on top of it. Hand weeding is the best option in flower beds, vegetable gardens, and shrub borders, because the herbicides that safely kill ground ivy in lawns would damage desirable plants in those areas.

Herbicide Applications

Repeated applications of broadleaf weed killers can be the most effective way to get rid of ground ivy in lawns. These are products that kill broadleaf weeds such as ground ivy, dandelions and plantain without harming lawn grasses. While one application can take care of many weeds, ground ivy is usually tougher to get rid of. Two or more applications may be required to achieve a satisfactory level of control.

Make additional applications at the shortest interval recommended on the label of the product you are using. While many broadleaf weed control products are based on 2,4-D herbicide, there are other products that are more effective when it comes to controlling ground ivy. Broadleaf weed control products that contain triclopyr, such as Ortho Weed-B-Gon Chickweed, Clover and Oxalis Killer have proven effective. So has a relatively new product on the homeowner market, Ortho Weed-B-Gon MAX Plus Crabgrass Control. It contains quniclorac, along with 2,4-D, MCPP and dicamba.

Timing of Applications

Careful timing of those applications is essential for optimum control. Late summer to early fall (mid-September to mid-October in Pennsylvania) has long been recognized as the best time to control tough-to-kill weeds such as ground ivy and clover. At that time of year, plants are translocating the carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis down to their roots for storage. Consequently, they readily absorb herbicides and move them down to the roots, which kills the weed, root and all. Cornell's Dr. Frank Rossi has conducted research that shows good control of ground ivy with spring applications made when it is in bloom. Those small, purplish-blue flowers appear sometime in May. That makes sense, too, because the ground ivy has used much of its stored carbohydrates to push new growth in spring. Blooming is a further strain on those reserves. As a result, a properly timed herbicide application can deliver a knockout punch - even to a tough customer like ground ivy.


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