Q. I’m inquiring about a round-leafed, vine-like weed thats taking over my lawn. We used “Weed n’ Feed” last spring, but this particular weed didn't seem to be fazed by the application. What can we use to bring this weed under control?
A. In a very few words you’ve provided a good description of one of our most prolific and most difficult to control lawn weeds, groundivy (Glechoma hederacea). It’s also frequently known as creeping Charlie and gill-over-the-ground!
As a member of the mint family, references to this plants herbal and medicinal properties date back more than five hundred years. In some regions the plant was used more frequently than hops for flavoring and clearing home-brewed beer a recently as the mid- to late 1800’s. It’s likely because of the plant’s reputed beneficial properties that it was introduced to North America by early settlers and now grows as a weed from near the arctic circle in Canada, west to Colorado and south to Georgia!
While groundivy thrives in relatively shaded, moist locations, it can survive and spread in all but the driest of soils. It can also form roots wherever its stems touch the soil, allowing a single plant to spread several feet in a single growing season (at left, above). This same trait also allows small pieces of stems cut apart by a lawn mower - possibly along the edge of your neighbor’s ground ivy-infested lawn - to take root in uninfested areas of your lawn or landscape beds (at right, above)!
Groundivy is generally unaffected by common lawn “weed and feed” products that contain 2,4-D as the primary weed killer - especially when applied in April or May. Rather, this invasive weed is best managed through a combination of practices.
First, improve your overall lawn maintenance practices to encourage a dense, vigorously growing lawn. This includes mowing your lawn at a height of three inches throughout the year - even during dry weather - and frequently. Groundivy growing in a dense lawn spreads very slowly because its stems rarely come into contact with exposed soil, thus limiting opportunities for new roots to form.
Second, mow ivy-infested areas of your lawn last, then clean your mower thoroughly before putting it away. This will reduce the chance that you’ll spread groundivy and other weeds into weed-free parts of your lawn (don’t forget to keep an eye out for weed-infested areas along the edges of your neighbor’s lawn, too)!
Finally, research has shown that groundivy is most susceptible to herbicides that are applied after the first hard frosts in early to mid-autumn. Therefore, you’re going to be most successful if you treat ground ivy-infested areas of your lawn in early to mid-October - depending upon weather conditions. Herbicides that are most effective against groundivy contain tryclopyr (also spelled triclopyr) as an active ingredient. Research has also shown that fall-applied herbicides may show no effect until the following spring, so make only one application in the fall precisely according to label directions.
Keep in mind that regardless of how much herbicide you try to use, it’s going to have limited effectiveness if you don’t mow, and fertilize your lawn correctly!