The Root of it All: Get that dreaded creeping Charlie under control

The Root of it All: Get that dreaded creeping Charlie under control

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My question is: How do you get rid of creeping Charlie? It is invading my backyard and moving into my flower beds.

A couple of years ago my brother sprayed some chemicals on it and it did help some (I forget what it was). But it has been coming back with a vengeance. My grandkids pull it out of the flower beds for me but it still wanders back into them.

I would love to do something organic but as hearty as it is I doubt that will take care of the problem.

Do you have any suggestions or ideas I can use to help rid me of this problem? I would appreciate anything you can suggest. Thanks. — Jet, Racine.

Pulling creeping Charlie (also known as ground ivy) could be a lifelong activity.

The low-growing vine-type plant is very common, and was imported to this country as a groundcover because of its durability, attractive scalloped edge foliage and pretty lavender flowers. It can still be found in its variegated form in beautiful hanging baskets.

It spreads readily from roots, stems and seeds; once it is established in your lawn or flower bed it is very difficult to eradicate.

Tilling the soil, pulling out parts of the plant and cutting it back are all methods that may seem like they are helping, but in actuality are only helping to spread it.

To truly rid your lawn and flower beds of this perennial broadleaf weed, chemical controls are necessary unless you would like to have it establish itself as a beautiful ground cover in those areas of your yard.

Although there are some organic weed control products available, they are total vegetation killers much like glyphosate (the active ingredient in products such as Roundup, Rodeo and KleenUp). If these total vegetation killer products are used on the creeping Charlie they will not only kill the creeping Charlie, they will kill the grass and any other plants that are sprayed.

Organic herbicides contain chemicals such as acetic acid and pelargonic acid. These will kill the plants, but may take several applications.

Since they are acids, there are also safety precautions that must be taken to assure that none of the chemical gets on your skin or in your eyes.

With all pesticides, organic or synthetic, it is very important to read the label before you buy the product, and again before you apply. Follow all safety recommendations and directions to get the best control of the weeds and the safest application.

Research has shown that creeping Charlie can be controlled in the lawn using a broadleaf weed control product that contains at least three herbicides.

This should be applied in two applications, the first when the plant is flowering in spring, and a second application in the fall after the first heavy frost. These are the times of year when the plant is most susceptible to chemical control. The chemicals in these pre-mixed products will include various combinations and concentrations of 2,4-D, MCPP, MCPA, mecoprop, dicamba and/or carfentrazone.

It is very important to follow the directions on the label; never apply more than twice a year.

Dicamba is absorbed through the root systems, and over-application to the lawn can result in dicamba being taken up into the root systems of trees and shrubs.

Although broadleaf weed control products won’t kill your grass, they will kill your perennials and annuals in your flower beds, so be very careful about how you apply the product you choose.

Many publications and fact sheets on lawn care and weed control, including one on controlling creeping Charlie, can be found on our UW-Extension Wisconsin Horticulture website at

More questions?

Master gardener volunteers serving as plant health advisers are also able to answer your questions at or (262) 886-8451 at the Racine Horticulture Helpline.

More gardening tips and updates can be found on Facebook; search for Patti Nagai and/or Racine Community Gardens.

Dr. Patti Nagai is the horticulture educator for Racine County UW-Extension. Submit your questions for The Journal Times Q&A column to Dr. Nagai at and put “Question for RJT” in the subject line.


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