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Creeping charlie

Deborah L. Brown

Creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea), also known as ground ivy and creeping jenny, is a low-growing perennial weed that thrives in moist, shady areas of the lawn and garden, but will invade sunny areas, too, if the lawn is thin. The four-sided stems grow to lengths of 15-30 inches with roots forming at the nodes, where leaves join the stem. Its leaves resemble those of the common geranium, round and scalloped, but are much smaller in size. In the early spring an abundance of tiny, lavender to blue flowers appear on 2 or 3-inch spikes. Try to maintain a healthy lawn by regular and proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing, and reducing shade when possible in excessively shady areas. These cultural steps will greatly contribute to a more weed-free lawn by encouraging thicker grass.


If you catch it early, you may be able to control creeping charlie by pulling it out. If it becomes thick, you can use a special tool called a dethatching rake. This helps to comb through the grass, pulling much of the viny weed out. It doesn't eliminate it, but may keep it in check. (Some grass will be pulled up in the process.) Using this tool is more physically demanding than fall leaf raking, however. It provides a strenuous workout, and may be more laborious than what you wish to undertake. This operation dethatches the lawn and cuts into the soil. Afterwards, you can work in some shade-tolerant grass seed to replace the creeping charlie. The best time to do this is between mid-August and mid-September. Choose a time when the weather is beginning to feel cooler.

You may control creeping charlie chemically by applying a herbicide containing 2,4-D and MCPP as its active ingredients. The herbicide will damage or possibly kill any woody or broad-leafed vegetation that comes in contact with the spray, so it must be used with caution.

The best time to spray is in autumn, once temperatures have cooled to the 60's or 70's, with no rain forecast for 48 hours. This spray program may be repeated every ten to fourteen days as long as the weather is cooperative. Do not spray during hot or windy weather, to avoid herbicide drift onto desirable plants. Always follow the label directions carefully.

A combination of 2,4-D, MCPP and dicamba may be used under some circumstances. The three together work more effectively than 2,4-D and MCPP but one reason for that extra effectiveness is dicamba's ability to be absorbed through the roots as well as through leaves. Since creeping charlie frequently grows in the shade of trees and shrubs, this combination of ingredients must be used with caution, spraying only enough to wet the leaves, not soaking the ground. This combination will prove more effective and pose less danger to desirable plants when it is used in early fall rather than spring.

If you have areas with more creeping charlie than lawn, you may wish to start over. Strip it off with a sod lifter (a hand tool), a sod cutter (a power tool) or apply glyphosate (a non-selective herbicide, sold as Roundup) to kill the entire area. Then you can seed or sod.

Where creeping charlie persists after years of repeated attempts to control it, you may want to consider killing it and replacing it with shade-tolerant ground cover plants or decorative mulch.

If you are interested in trying to eliminate creeping charlie with a borax application, see Using Borax to Control Creeping Charlie.

Reference for Illustration

USDA. 1971. Common Weeds of the United States. Dover Publications, New York. p. 313.

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