If you're a homeowner with a garden or a lawn, chances are you've encountered wild violets, also known as Viola sororia. These perennials, while beautiful, are known for their invasive nature and can quickly take over a lawn if left unchecked. Their flowers range in color from dark purple to almost blue and their leaves maintain a dark green hue year-round. They are very popular with pollinators like bees and butterflies which means there are many scenarios where folks promote and encourage wild violets to thrive.
However, there are also plenty of homeowners, gardeners, businesses, turf managers, and the like who prefer to not have this species taking over. Here, we will break down how to identify, remove, and prevent these tenacious plants.
Identifying Wild Violets
Wild violets are easily identifiable due to their unique characteristics. They have heart-shaped leaves that are often a deep, glossy green. The flowers are what really stand out, typically a vibrant purple or blue, sometimes white, with five delicate petals that bloom in the spring. If you spot a plant matching this description in your lawn, you've found wild violet.
Removing Wild Violets
Removing wild violets is a bit tricky due to their resilient nature. They have a strong root system that allows them to survive typical lawn mowing and even some herbicides. Here are some steps you can take to effectively remove them from your lawn:
- 1. Hand Pulling: This method works best when the soil is moist, perhaps after a rainfall. Simply grip the plant at its base near the soil line and pull gently but firmly. Try to get as much of the root out as you can, as leaving any behind can result in new growth. However, in situations where you have more than a few clumps growing, hand pulling is likely going to be a futile effort. Because of how wild violets spread (underground lateral roots called rhizomes), large colonies will often repopulate themselves very quickly if not fully removed.
- 2. Herbicides: When hand pulling isn't effective or practical due to the number of violets, a selective broadleaf herbicide can help without having a negative impact on your grass. Always read the label and make sure to choose a selective herbicide specific to your species of grass. Broadleaf herbicides that contain 2,4-D, Dicamba, or Quinclorac will selectively control the wild violet without damaging your grass. Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for popular recommendations.
- 3. It’s also important to note that the leaves of wild violets have a waxy leaf surface that makes it difficult to get any herbicide treatment to stick and be absorbed by the plants. A spreader-sticker surfactant should be added to your mix to ensure adhesion and reduce the number of treatments needed. It is very rare for just one treatment to be enough to completely control a patch of wild violet. Be sure to follow the treatment schedule outlined in the label of whichever herbicide products you choose to use. Most professionals recommend treating wild violet in the fall when the plant is not actively growing for the most effective control.
- 4. Professional Lawn Care Service: If all else fails, or if the task seems too daunting, consider hiring a professional lawn care service. They have the tools and knowledge to tackle stubborn plants like the wild violet. In cases of extreme infestation, completely removing the sod and reestablishing a new lawn may be the only practical remedy.
Preventing Wild Violets
Prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially true with wild violets. Here's how you can prevent them from invading your lawn in the first place:
- 1. Maintain a Healthy Lawn: wild violets thrive in thin, nutrient-poor soil. By keeping your lawn thick and healthy, you can prevent these invaders from taking hold. Regularly water and fertilize your lawn, and make sure to reseed any thin or bare spots.
- 2. Water with Intention: Over-watering is wasteful and wild violets prefer soil that is moist and full of water. If you use automatic irrigation, make sure that you’re only watering early in the morning and allowing the surface-level water a chance to either be absorbed or evaporate during the day. Watering at night keeps the soil soggy for extended periods of time and welcomes even more troublesome infestations (like various forms of fungus).
- 3. Mow High: Set your mower’s blade height to the proper length for your species of grass. Tall grass is healthier and can outcompete wild violets and many other plants that you may not want to grow in your lawn. Also, keep in mind, if you miss a mow or just accidentally let it get too long, avoid cutting more than 1/3 of the length of the grass blades. This may mean you have to cut some and then cut down to your preferred height a few days later to get back on schedule.
- 4. Apply Pre-emergent Herbicide: These types of herbicides work by preventing weed seeds from germinating. Apply pre-emergents in the early spring before the violets have a chance to sprout.
Wild violets may be a nuisance, but with a little effort and know-how, you can keep your lawn free from these purple invaders. Remember, the key to a beautiful lawn is regular maintenance and swift action at the first sign of trouble. Happy gardening!