Weeds or wildflowers? It's a matter of perspective

creeping charlie

You are probably familiar with two difficult to control weeds prevalent in both lawns and cultivated areas such as gardens – dandelions and creeping Charlie. Let’s start with dandelions.   

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a cool-season plant that reproduces in two ways, both by seeds and pieces of root. Its flowering season lasts from early spring to late fall, so they are always with us. The largest flush comes in early to mid-spring.  The white puffballs contain the seeds which ride the wind to new locations, so eradicating them from your landscape doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

There are a few things you can do. In gardens, manually pull them using a dandelion puller. Try to get the entire taproot since each piece left in the soil can grow a new plant. Mechanical tillers tend to chop up the root into pieces replanting them as it tills the soil, actually compounding the problem. In the lawn, a dense turf provides competition to weeds of all kinds. If they sprout up in places where digging is impossible like sidewalk cracks, you may need to resort to using a non-selective herbicide that kills everything.      

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is also known as ground ivy and very common in Illinois. It has square stems, telling us it belongs in the mint family. It sports small rounded or kidney-shaped leaves with toothed margins. They can be smooth or hairy and produce a strong odor when cut or crushed. The flowers, also small, are purplish-blue and funnel-shaped, and bloom in spring.       

Creeping Charlie prefers fertile, shaded sites with soils that are slow to drain. However, it seems to adapt just fine to sunny areas as well. It is tough to control. Hand pulling in gardens works but eliminating it in the lawn is really difficult. If the patch is small, removing the entire area and then reseeding works. Since it grows so well in shade, some people use it as a ground cover in areas too dark for other plants to thrive.     

I have learned to live with both dandelions and ground ivy. I just think of them as wildflowers, which they are. I also prefer biodiversity over monoculture. In my gardens, I hand pull them using a dandelion puller. I put neither in my compost.      

The Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of Edgar County Extension wish you good luck in your battle against both dandelions and creeping Charlie. Call us at 217-465-8585 for help with landscape questions.

About Extension:  Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

Source: Jan Phipps, Edgar County Master Gardener