Creeping Charlie, or "ground ivy," is an aromatic, perennial, evergreen creeper of the mint family that thrives particularly in moist, shady areas, although it will also take some sun. Native to Europe and known by the botanical name, Glechoma hederacea, it has naturalized in North America, where it has become a hard-to-kill weed common in lawns. Its range in the U.S. includes every state except for three states in the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains.
Identifying Creeping Charlie
Creeping Charlie has a square stem that varies in length from a few inches to 2 feet. The color of its leaves also varies, from dark green to purple. Its has funnel-shaped flowers with a bluish-purple color, and the plant spreads to form a dense mat over the ground, making it something of a wild groundcover.
Sometimes creeping Charlie is referred to as "creeping Jenny," but that nickname is more commonly reserved for Lysimachia nummularia. At a glance, the two weeds look alike, but if you take a close look, you can easily tell them: creeping Jenny's leaf does not have the scalloped edges that creeping Charlie's does.
How Creeping Charlie Spreads
Part of the reason why creeping Charlie is invasive and why it is so hard to kill is the variety of ways it has to spread. It spreads both by seeding and by rooting at the nodes that stud its little vines. And you can spread it via mowing without even realizing it unless you mow with a bag attachment. It can also spread with rhizomes, a fact to keep in mind when you're trying to dig it out. Leaving behind just a fragment of rhizome results in the birth of a new plant.
Killing Creeping Charlie With Chemicals
There is a well-known home remedy for killing creeping Charlie that involves using a solution with Borax, but this method has fallen out of favor because unless you use scientific precision in mixing the solution and applying it evenly onto the creeping Charlie plants, you can end up with a case of boron toxicity in your soil.
A better solution is to apply either an herbicide or a lawn-friendly weed-control product, depending on the severity of the problem. If the invasion of creeping Charlie is really bad, you may opt for a method that kills everything in the area, after which you would simply begin afresh from square one (whether it be starting a new lawn or starting a new garden). For this method, simply apply a glyphosate-based herbicide, such as Roundup, following the manufacturer's directions. Observe the recommended waiting period before reseeding a lawn or starting any other plants after using glyphosate.
For chemical control of creeping Charlie on a lawn, use a selective broadleaf weed killer that is labeled as being effective on creeping Charlie. Apply it around the time of the first frost in fall or as directed. Make sure the product is meant for use on the type of grass that you grow, and follow all application and safety instructions. Many broadleaf weed killers can be applied more than once in a season, with a minimum waiting period between applications.
Killing Creeping Charlie Naturally
Killing creeping Charlie without chemicals may be preferred in garden areas or anywhere near edible plants, or if you simply don't want to use chemical treatments. If the weed has totally taken over your garden beds, you can smother them with newspapers or with tarps, as you would in eradicating Japanese knotweed.
For more localized natural control in a lawn or garden, good old-fashioned hand-pulling of the weeds is usually the best option. The problem with hand-pulling, though, is that you have to be determined to stick with it. It's not a magic bullet: The weed most likely will return after the first hand-pulling, because the tiniest piece of rhizome left behind will eventually shoot up as a new plant. Keep an eye on the area so that you can catch any new shoot that comes up as soon as possible and remove it. It's hard work, but you will eventually wear down the weed.