Creeping charlie, or "ground ivy," is an aromatic evergreen groundcover. This perennial—a close relative of mint—thrives in moist and shady areas, although it also tolerates some sun. Native to Europe and known by the botanical name Glechoma hederacea, creeping charlie was introduced to North America in the 1800s as both an ornamental and medicinal plant. This invasive weed has now proliferated into a hard-to-kill and lawn weed in almost every U.S. state.
Creeping charlie is hard to kill because it spreads by way of seeds, roots (or rhizomes), and stems that root at the nodes. Without even realizing it, you can spread creeping charlie by mowing your lawn without a bag attachment or letting the plant go to seed. Even if you dig it out, creeping charlie's rhizomes are so intrusive that leaving behind just one fragment can result in the birth of a new plant.
When to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie
Depending on your level of infestation and your chosen removal method, creeping charlie is best removed in either the spring or the fall. For small patches, hand pulling in the spring before the plant has flowered is recommended as an initial eradication attempt. However, hand pulling often requires several attempts throughout the season to fully tackle the culprit.
If you decide to use an herbicide on a large and persistent infestation, do so in the fall when the plant has reached its prime and before it sends out seeds.
What You'll Need
- Spade shovel or pitchfork
- Gardening shears
- Weed tool
- Protective eyewear
- Garden hose
- Lawn waste bags
- Garden pump sprayer
Hand-Pulling Creeping Charlie
Removing creeping charlie without the use of chemicals is the preferred method for patches that reside near edible plants or for families with children and animals who prefer not to use chemicals.
Cut Back the Plant to Its Roots
Trim the leaves and creeping stems from the plant, leaving just enough above the ground to pull with your hands. Place the trimmings in a lawn waste bag.
Water the Infested Area
Soak the weeded area with a garden hose. Make sure to thoroughly saturate the soil, then wait about 30 to 60 minutes before proceeding.
Loosen the Soil
Loosen the soil with a pitchfork to expose some of the roots and rhizomes.
Pull the Plant and Roots
Grasp the plant at its base and pull up to remove the roots. If the roots are particularly deep, rework the soil with the pitchfork so that you can remove them all in one pull. Place the entire plant and its roots in the disposal bag.
Inspect the Area for Rhizomes
With a garden trowel or weed tool, inspect the remaining area for any leftover rhizomes (little white roots) and remove them. Removing all the rhizomes you see will make your next elimination efforts easy, as the hand-pulling option will require several passes.
Killing Creeping Charlie With Chemicals
If your patch of creeping charlie is too large to hand-pull, using an herbicide or a lawn-friendly weed-control product may be your only option. You can opt for a method that kills everything in the area, and then start your lawn again from scratch. Or, you can selectively spray only the invader with a glyphosate-based herbicide, such as Roundup, following the manufacturer's directions.
Pick and Day and Check the Weather
The best time to spray creeping charlie is in the fall after the first frost. Select a day when there will be little wind and make sure that it won't rain or snow within 24 hours of application.
Mix Your Solution
Place the herbicide into the pump sprayer and mix it with water per manufacturer's instructions. Make sure to be precise, as too much product may harm your soil and too little may not kill the weed.
Spray the Weed
Spray the herbicide onto the creeping charlie, concentrating only on the leaves and stems and allowing the solution to soak down to the roots. Be careful of overspray, as chemicals applied to wanted foliage will kill.
Replant the Area
Overwinter the treated area, and then in the spring, rake up any leftover weed debris. Till and amend the soil with a nitrogen-fixing natural fertilizer. Then, replant or reseed your lawn.
Tips for Eliminating Creeping Charlie
Remember, when hand pulling, even the tiniest piece of rhizome left behind will eventually shoot up as a new plant. In any case, the weed most likely will return after the first hand-pulling. Keep an eye on the area so that you can catch new plants as soon as possible. It takes determination, but eventually, you will wear down the weed and eradicate it completely.
A well-known home remedy for killing creeping charlie involves a solution of Borax. This method has fallen out of favor because, unless you use scientific precision in mixing and applying the solution, you can end up with a case of boron toxicity in your soil.
For the chemical control of creeping charlie in lawns, use a selective broadleaf weed killer that works specifically on creeping charlie and make sure the product is suitable to use on the variety of grass you grow. Many broadleaf weed killers can be applied more than once in a season with a minimum waiting period between applications.
Observe the recommended waiting period before reseeding a lawn or starting any other plants after using a glyphosate-based weed killer. And, do not plant vegetables or any edible plant in an area that has been treated by Roundup.
Identifying Creeping Charlie
Creeping charlie has a square stem that varies in length from a few inches to two feet long. The color of its leaves ranges from dark green to purple. The plant grows purple funnel-shaped flowers and spreads to form a dense mat over the ground (a groundcover).
Creeping charlie is sometimes mistaken as "creeping jenny," a nickname commonly reserved for Lysimachia nummularia. At a glance, the two weeds look alike. But if you take a closer look, you'll see that creeping charlie's leaves have scalloped edges, whereas creeping jenny's leaves do not.