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July Master Gardener Column

By Jan Phipps

July 2020 should find your gardens looking better than ever thanks to the extra time we’ve had to dedicate to their wellbeing during three-plus months of shelter in place. What a great way to pass the time and calm your mind by working closely with soil and thriving plants.

This was a banner spring for one of those plants – violets. Some love them, others hate them. I fall firmly into both categories. I enjoy seeing violets blooming in my lawn, adding sporadic drifts of color to the otherwise monotonous green grass. I even like them at the outer edges of my wilder gardens, both the blooms and the delightfully heart-shaped leaves.

The problem, of course, is keeping a prolific spreader like violets where you want them and out of your perennial or vegetable gardens where they fast become a nuisance. They are very efficient propagators, spreading by both seed dispersal and underground rhizomes. Violets prefer moist, shady, and fertile areas, but seem to manage just fine in full sun gardens, usually tucked under the shade of another plant. This makes them hard to remove since digging them out can be tricky without disturbing the desirable plant whose main stem they adjoin.

You can remove unwanted violets in several ways. Using a dandelion puller works well. Be sure to get the rhizome and the roots. Anything left in the soil will regrow a new plant. They can go in your compost unless they have seeds. An active pile will destroy the rhizome. A non-selective herbicide like glyphosate will also kill the whole plant. Read and follow the directions on the container, being sure not to let any of the herbicide touch any other plant except the violet. If it is growing in close proximity to other plants, you have two options. Carefully paint some herbicide on the violet with a brush or cover the surrounding desirable plants with something waterproof for protection.

If you are organic and cannot excavate the violet because of its nearness to other plants, repeatedly remove everything above the soil level until the roots are starved enough to die. This method takes persistence, checking it weekly, often for months, but it will eventually work.

The flowers come in a variety of colors, mostly white or shades of blue and purple. There are also yellow ones and bi-color blooms with a mix of white and one of the other colors mentioned. Being a cool-season perennial, they bloom in spring adding the color we winter-starved gardeners are so happy to see. The blue violet is the Illinois state flower.

For questions about violets or any other garden or landscape questions, reach out to your county Extension office via email at The Edgar County Master Gardeners are eager to help.