Wild violets (Viola papilionacea, Viola sororia, Viola pubescens, and other species) are a close relative of the violas, pansies, and johhny-jump-ups that are cultivated for garden use. But while some people view this plant as a fine woodland wildflower, many homeowners regard it as a stubborn perennial lawn weed that is remarkably resistant to efforts to eradicate it.
Along with creeping Charlie, this is a lawn weed that is quite difficult to get rid of without herbicides, which is perhaps one reason why some homeowners surrender and learn to tolerate them as wildflowers. In fact, some recent research suggests that a lawn full of wild violets and white clover makes a good pollinator-friendly alternative to a turfgrass lawn, and the sight of a lawn filled with lavender violets in bloom is truly gorgeous. In addition to being bee-friendly, the leaves of wild violets serve as a food source for various types of butterfly caterpillars, making this plant valued by gardeners striving for a pollinator-friendly landscape.
But for homeowners who long for a classic grass lawn, fighting wild violets in the can a difficult process that has them reaching for chemicals.
Recognizing Wild Violets
Wild violets are easily recognized by their low-growth habit, their heart-shaped leaves, and the small lavender, white, or sometimes yellow flowers. The plants commonly grow to be about 4 to 6 inches high, although they may grow taller in the right conditions. The leaves have a waxy texture.
These are perennial plants that spread both by rhizomes and by seeds, and lawns that are not well maintained are very often colonized by spreads of violets. Shady areas of a lawn are especially susceptible to takeover by wild violets. Very few homeowners in the eastern or midwestern portions of the U.S. have not seen wild violets in their lawns at some point. They are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.
When to Get Rid of Wild Violets
Chemical efforts to eradicate wild violets is best undertaken in the fall. At this time, herbicides tend to be transported down to the taproot as the plant stores up nutrients for winter. Applied in fall, you have a good chance of the herbicide killing the plant all the way down to ground level. Applied in spring or summer, the herbicide only burns the surface leaves temporarily, allowing the plant to rebound.
- Working Time: About 1 hour to spot-treat wild violets in an average-sized lawn with herbicide
- Total Time: About 3 months to completely eradicate wild violets with repeated applications
- Material Cost: About $15 for a 40-ounce container of concentrated lawn weed killler and about $15 to $20 for a 1-gallon pump-style garden sprayer
What You'll Need
Wild violets can be removed by hand, and if you regularly inspect your lawn and perform the removal, it can be an effective means of control. But for most people, this is one weed that calls for the use of chemical herbicides.
- Garden fork (for hand removal)
- Work gloves
- Protective clothing and breathing protection
- Pump-style garden sprayer
- Lawn weed killer concentrate containing dicamba or quinclorac, or triclopyr
- Surfactant or dish soap
How to Remove Wild Violets by Hand
For large, established clumps, use a garden fork to dig under the plant from about 1 foot away from the center of the plant, loosening the soil around it. When you can get your tool beneath the plant, lift it up from underneath and remove as much of the root system as possible.
Young plants are considerably easier to remove. Wear thick leather gardening gloves to protect your hands as you pull the violets. Moisten the lawn thoroughly, then grasp the main stem near the soil line and pull straight up. Young violets have a relatively shallow root system and they often can be plucked from the ground rather easily.
Be Responsible With Herbicides
The best approach to killing wild violets with herbicide is to spot treat individual weeds rather than to broadcast weedkiller over the entire lawn. This will minimize the amount of chemical being introduced to the environment and also provide better control and less chemical drift in the air. An ordinary garden sprayer with a wand nozzle can let you target the leaves of individual weeds with almost no drift of chemical mist.
How to Kill Wild Violets With Herbicide
- Mix up a batch of broad-spectrum weed killer in a garden sprayer, following label directions precisely.
- Add surfactant or 1 tablespoon of dish soap to the weed killer mixture, again following label directions exactly. The waxy leaves of wild violets can cause the herbicide to run off the leaves, but the surfactant will help it stick and be absorbed.
- Spot-treat individual wild violet plants with the herbicide/surfactant mixture, thoroughly wetting all the leaves. Make sure to wear whatever protective gear recommended by the product labels; you should avoid skin contact or breathing mist from the herbicide.
- Observe the weeds over the next two to three weeks. You should see them begin to turn brown and die. Once the wild violet is clearly dead, you can remove the brown leaves by hand.
- If the violet does not die completely after two weeks, treat it with weed killer again. It is not unusual for some plants to even survive the winter and return in the spring. If so, give it another treatment of weedkiller in the spring as new growth is just 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, even when they have chosen the lawn as a home. Many homeowners choose to let these wildflowers grow as they will and learn to enjoy their presence. There can be a number of motivations for simply tolerating wild violets in the lawn:
- It makes for a low-maintenance lawn.
- It avoids the use of herbicides.
- The plant is friendly to bees and other pollinators.
- Wild violets and other wildflowers can be a great ground cover alternative in moist, shady areas where grass is difficult to grow.
- It is conducive to natural landscape design since wild violets are native species.
Wild violets are also edible weeds, as both the flowers and the leaves can be eaten. Young leaves have a pleasant nutty taste. Violets also have medicinal qualities—an acid contained in the leaves can be used to break down corns and warts.