The Worst Spring Lawn Weed

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This spring has seemingly brought out the worst in some of our lawn weeds. Creeping Charlie, also called Ground Ivy has been the number one complaint I have had this spring while talking lawn care with homeowners and garden club members.

Creeping Charlie quietly grew well into the fall of 2015 with the same great conditions that allowed our lawns to remain green well into late November last year. Creeping Charlie is very good in increasing its size by sending out long runners into parts of our lawn where it has never ventured before.

Creeping Charlie is a perennial broad leaved weed that once established is one of the more difficult weeds to manage. Often times the weed gets its foothold in the home landscape not by invading the lawn right off, but establishing a "base camp" around the edge of our yard in shady areas that do not get much of our attention. Once there it is easy for Creeping Charlie to send out runners into the more open and sunny parts of the lawn where it becomes more vigorous and flowers freely in the spring of the year and those flowers may be our first indicator that there is a real problem developing. The runners will take root at every node, making it impossible to pull up with any success.

If the lawn is in pretty good shape, as the Creeping Charlie weakens, the lawn grasses will recover and fill in. If the lawn has been overrun, and this is the story I have been getting, more work is needed. Too many bare spots will be revealed and without actively promoting lawn grasses over weeds, these areas will often grow a different weed or the Creeping Charlies will just come back.

Treatments can be made in the spring as the weed is in bloom and a second treatment a couple of weeks later. The other window of opportunity will be late summer or early fall. Both times the grass will be actively growing and fill in as he weed fails and dies. Treatments are made with combination products and together work with one another to manage the Creeping Charlie.

Most often the combination products contain 2,4-D, MCPP, and Dicamba as active ingredients. These combination products are also beneficial for controlling other broadleaved weeds commonly found in home lawns.

Tips for good control are to make treatments when the weeds are actively growing, be prepared to make a second application, and recognize that April, May and June are better treatment months in the spring and September, October and November are better months for all applications.

Additional cultural management techniques include mowing lawn removing no more than a third of the grass blade off at any one mowing. This suggests that in the spring and fall the mowing frequency will increase to accommodate the increased growth rate of the lawn. Raising the cutting height up will allow the lawn to be more competitive against weeds and mowing with a sharp mower blade.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.