Creeping Charlie Weed: What It Looks Like, How to Kill It

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie, or Ground Ivy

Creeping Charlie is a weed or herb with scalloped edges on its leaves.
David Beaulieu

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.

Part of the reason why the plant is invasive and why it is so hard to kill creeping Charlie 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 (which means you can spread it via mowing without even realizing it, unless you mow with a bag attachment). It can also spread by 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 Naturally, With Chemicals

People often wonder how to get rid of creeping Charlie (although, at the end of the article, you will read about its benefits, as well as some of the history behind this interesting weed). So let's take a look at both some chemical and natural ways of controlling it.

First of all, you may have heard of the well-known home remedy for killing creeping Charlie that involves using a solution with Borax, so let's deal with it briefly here.

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. But for those who are curious, Iowa State University's Richard Jauron says to

  1. Dissolve 10 ounces of Borax into 4 ounces of warm water.
  1. Then make a further dilution by mixing this solution into 2 1/2 gallons of water (this amount would provide coverage for an area of 1,000 square feet).

Assuming you're not willing to risk boron toxicity, let's look at some other ways to kill creeping Charlie, both naturally and with chemicals.

One factor that may help you decide on your control method is just how badly the weed has taken over the area in question. If the invasion 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). If you do not mind using chemicals, you could spray a glyphosate-based herbicide, such as Roundup, onto a lawn in such cases. Wait about a week before reseeding a lawn after using glyphosate.

Many gardeners prefer weed control without chemicals. At the very least, you should be looking for natural ways to kill creeping Charlie in garden areas. If the weed has totally taken over your garden beds, consider the following ways to kill creeping Charlie naturally (you can also use these methods on a weed-infested lawn that you've given up on, if you wish to avoid chemicals):

  1. Smothering with newspapers.
  2. Smothering with tarps, as you would in eradicating Japanese knotweed.

But what if the infestation isn't too bad? How can you get rid of small patches of creeping Charlie, removing it in a very targeted way that allows you to keep your current lawn or garden bed (instead of having to begin all over)? 

For chemical control on the lawn, seek a selective broadleaf herbicide intended for use in killing creeping Charlie. Apply it around the time of the first frost in fall. Consult the label on the product to make sure the herbicide is effective against this particular weed (triclopyr, for example, is an active ingredient in some of the herbicides to which creeping Charlie is not resistant). While you're reading the label, also check:

  1. That it's meant for use on the type of grass that you grow.
  1. When and how to apply.
  2. Safety precautions to take.

For natural control (in either lawn or garden), good old-fashioned weeding (hand-pulling) is your best choice.

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 the weed down.

An Herb With a Tale to Tell: History, Benefits

With all of the effort it takes to kill creeping Charlie, you may be surprised to learn that it was intentionally brought to North America by European settlers. Once you learn about the history of creeping Charlie's uses, some of that surprise should wear off, though. But before you hear that story, let's back up. You need to know a bit more information about the traits of this fascinating weed.

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. The funnel-shaped flowers have a bluish-purple color, and the plant spreads to form a dense mat over the ground, making it something of a wild groundcover.

A somewhat slower-growing type of creeping Charlie with two-toned leaves and suited to planting zones 4-9 is sold at some garden centers. Grow it in a container garden (which will check its spread) on a deck or patio, and give it full sun to discourage its leaves from reverting back to their natural green color.

The plant's uses for treating ailments have been known since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome. The famous Greco-Roman doctor, Galen, for instance, recommended it for inflamed eyes, and English herbalist, John Gerard (1545-1607) recommended creeping Charlie for ringing in the ears

Never is it wise, however, to eat any plant, medicinal or otherwise, without first becoming informed about its properties.

If you are not an expert in such matters, you may be unaware that it is only a particular part of the plant that can safely be used, whether as an herbal remedy, a food, or a drink. 

Common Names, How It Differs From Creeping Jenny, and Whether It's Poisonous

It wasn't only as a healing herb that the plant was prized, traditionally. The Saxons used creeping Charlie to clarify their beers, in the same way that hops vine is now used. In fact, an alternate common name for the plant is "gill" (or "gill-over-the-ground"), which comes from the French word that means "to ferment beer" (guiller). 

Sometimes, this weed is also referred to as "creeping Jenny," but that nickname is more commonly reserved for Lysimachia nummularia. Novices may think the two weeds look alike, but, if you take a closer look, you can easily tell the two apart: Creeping Jenny's leaf does not have the scalloped edges that creeping Charlie's does. 

Yet another common name for this perennial lawn weed is "catsfoot" (its leaf is more or less the shape and size of a kitten's paw). But don't let the innocent-sounding name fool you: Cats, dogs, and various other animals can get sick by eating large amounts of creeping Charlie. So can humans. According to the University of Illinois Extension, there are compounds in creeping Charlie that are poisonous, being harmful to "the liver, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys."

When a plant has this many nicknames, you can be pretty sure of two things: It's widespread, and people have interacted with it in a number of ways over a long period of time. Creeping Charlie, the despised lawn weed, the invasive alien that we spend so much time battling, is just such a plant.

Do you enjoy the fragrance of a freshly mown lawn? Most people do. Well, wait until you have mown a patch of lawn that has some creeping Charlie growing in it. You haven't smelled anything yet until you've experienced the aroma of freshly mown creeping Charlie. Truly one of the joys of summer, smelling the aroma of these fragrant plants almost makes the boring chore of mowing the lawn worthwhile.