Wild violets (Viola papilionacea, Viola sororia, Viola pubescens, and other species) are a close relative of violas, pansies, and other garden flowers. While some people view this plant as a fine wildflower, others regard it as a stubborn perennial lawn weed. Wild violets can be removed by hand, especially if you regularly inspect your lawn to control the plant before it spreads. But sometimes this weed calls for the use of chemical herbicides for complete eradication.
Identifying Wild Violets
Wild violets are easily recognized by their low growth habit; waxy, heart-shaped leaves; and small lavender, white, or yellow flowers. The plants are commonly around 4 to 6 inches high, though they can grow taller in the right conditions.
These are perennial plants that spread both by rhizomes and by seeds. Lawns that are not well maintained are often colonized by spreads of violets. Shady areas of a lawn are especially susceptible to a wild violet takeover. Very few homeowners in the eastern or midwestern U.S. have not seen wild violets in their lawns at some point. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.
When to Get Rid of Wild Violets
Using herbicide to eradicate wild violets is best undertaken in the fall. At this time, the herbicide will be transported down to the taproot as the plant stores nutrients for winter. Thus, you have a good chance of the herbicide killing the plant down to ground level with a fall application. If you use herbicide in the spring or summer, it might only temporarily kill the surface leaves, allowing the plant to rebound.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden fork (for hand removal)
- Work gloves
- Garden hose
- Protective clothing and breathing mask
- Pump-style garden sprayer
- Surfactant or dish soap
How to Remove Wild Violets by Hand
Young wild violets are fairly easy to pull by hand. For larger plants, enlist the help of a garden fork.
Moisten the Area
Wear thick gardening gloves to protect your hands as you pull the violets.
Moisten the area thoroughly with a garden hose, and wait about a 1/2 hour. The water will loosen the soil and make it easier to pull the plants.
Grasp the Main Stem
For young violets, grasp the main stem near the soil line and pull straight up. Young plants have a relatively shallow root system, which usually comes out of the ground with ease.
Dig and Loosen the Soil
For large, established clumps, use a garden fork to dig under the plant, loosening the soil around it. When you can get your tool beneath the plant, lift it from underneath and remove as much of the root system as possible.
How to Kill Wild Violets With Herbicide
The best approach to killing wild violets with herbicide is to spot treat individual weeds rather than spray weed killer over the entire area. This will minimize the chemicals being introduced into the environment. A garden sprayer with a wand nozzle will let you target the leaves of individual weeds with almost no drift of chemical mist.
Mix the Weed Killer
Mix up a batch of broad-spectrum weed killer in a garden sprayer, following label directions. Make sure to wear whatever protective gear the label recommends.
Add Dish Soap
Add surfactant or a tablespoon of dish soap to the weed killer. The waxy leaves of wild violets can cause the herbicide to run off, but the surfactant will help it stick so it can be absorbed.
Spot treat individual wild violet plants with the herbicide mixture, thoroughly wetting all the leaves.
Whenever using an herbicide, take care to avoid all skin contact and breathing the mist.
Observe the Plants
Observe the plants over the next two to three weeks. You should see them begin to turn brown and die. Once the wild violets are clearly dead, you can remove the brown leaves by hand.
Treat Again, if Necessary
If the plants do not die completely after two weeks, treat again with herbicide. It is not unusual for some plants to survive the winter and return in the spring. If so, give them another treatment of herbicide in the spring as new growth is starting.
The Case for Tolerating Wild Violets
Because wild violets have pretty flowers that bloom early and often, not everyone regards this plant as a weed. Many homeowners choose to let these wildflowers grow in their lawns and elsewhere.
There are several reasons for tolerating wild violets in the lawn:
- It makes for a low-maintenance lawn.
- It avoids the use of herbicide.
- The plant is friendly to bees and other pollinators.
- Wild violets and other wildflowers can be a great ground cover in moist, shady areas where grass is difficult to grow.
- It is conducive to natural landscape design, as wild violets are a native species.
Wild violets are also edible weeds. Both the flowers and leaves can be eaten, and young leaves have a pleasant nutty taste. Plus, some people use wild violets medicinally. An acid in wild violet leaves is said to break down corns and warts.
Plants Profile for Viola Sororia (Common Blue Violet). United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wild Violet. University of Maryland Extension
Wild Violet. University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture