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Home & Garden: What Are Wild Violets and How Do I Get Rid of Them?

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There are many types of wild violet species, some native and others European and Asian invaders, but all grow primarily in the northern regions of the U.S. You can recognize these flowering perennials by their early spring blossoms and heart-shaped, waxy leaves. Most commonly the five-petaled flowers are deep purple, but they can also be white, speckled or yellow.

a green plant in a garden © Tsp Product/Getty Images

"This tenacious little plant might be considered a bothersome weed by some," says expert gardener Em Shipman of KidsGardening.org. "But overall, it has many benefits to humans, animals and pollinators." Read on to learn all you need to know about this common weed and how to keep it from taking over your lawn.

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What Are Wild Violets?

Wild violets are a close relative to annual violas and pansies, Shipman says. They are a persistent, low-growing, broadleaf perennial that thrives in shady spots with moist soil, and they flower prolifically in the early spring. The plants grow between four and six inches tall, forming thick clumps with flowers that attract many pollinators.

These aggressive plants spread via rhizomes — a creeping horizontal root that can produce new shoots — or seeds. "If you look closely, you can often see small, unopened flowers underneath the foliage," Shipman says. "These can self-pollinate and produce seeds, a fascinating adaptation that ensures the next generation of plants, even if the opened flowers haven't been pollinated by insects." The botanical term for this is cleistogamy.

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Are Wild Violets Weeds?

If you define a weed as any plant growing where you don't want it, you can definitely consider wild violets in your lawn to be weeds.

"Wild violets freely self-seed, quickly taking over a lawn or planted bed and are not too easy to get rid of," Shipman says. "While they have many benefits to pollinators and wildlife, their aggressive habits can make them a headache for gardeners with a more manicured image in mind."

Are Wild Violets Safe?

Yes. The flowers and leaves of these wild plants are edible and even have medical qualities for humans.

"The leaves are high in vitamin A and C and are commonly used in European salads or as cooked greens," Shipman says. "The flowers can be candied or tossed into a salad to add a pop of color and flavor." She suggests making violet syrup, tea, infused honey or sugared flowers as fun — and delicious — family activities.

Do keep in mind, however, that you should never ingest flowers or leaves that have been treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

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How To Get Rid of Wild Violets

"If you love wild violets and their vibrant blooms are your favorite part of spring, then enjoy!" Shipman says. However, to keep them from completely taking over, take these steps.

  • Chemical weed killers: The most effective way to kill wild violets is by applying a broadleaf herbicide. But these products contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to children and pets, as well as to essential pollinators and other wildlife. They also contaminate groundwater and freshwater, and can damage your grass and other landscaping plants if not used with care.

  • Hand weeding: Pulling up wild violets by hand may be labor-intensive, but it is also the least harmful way to rid your yard of these plants. Hand weed in the spring and summer when the plants are growing fastest, be sure to dampen the soil, and use a hoe or other weeding tool so you can pull out the entire root system. "When leaves and flowers are plucked from above, the rhizomes will continue to send out new growth," explains Shipman. "Be sure to remove the entire plant so the rhizomes don't re-sprout."

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  • Natural/organic herbicides: If persistent hand weeding doesn't do the trick, you can try a natural or organic herbicide. Spread corn gluten meal to prevent seed germination or treat existing plants with a DIY herbicide. "Mix and spray a solution of equal parts of vinegar and hot water to which a bit of dish soap (one tablespoon per gallon) has been added to help the spray adhere and penetrate the waxy leaves," Shipman says.

  • Covering: If wild violets and other weeds have taken over a large area, lay down several layers of cardboard, newspapers and/or mulch to smother the plants. This is not a quick solution, however. "It may take several months to a year to smother the plants and give them time to decompose, but the result will be a weed-free, ready-to-plant bed," says Shipman.

How To Prevent Wild Violets From Coming Back

Many homeowners let a limited number of wild violets coexist with their turfgrass because the flowers are an important source of nectar when little else is in bloom. But once you've stopped a full-blown invasion, here's how you can keep these plants in check.

  • Lawn care best practices: Start with a healthy, well-maintained lawn and planting beds. "Dense grass and foliage make it difficult for seeds to establish and roots to spread," Shipman says.

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  • Mulching: Within a day or two after hand weeding, apply a thick layer of mulch to the area you weeded to suffocate any small bits of plant or root system left in the soil.

  • Pruning: Wild violets do best in light shade where turfgrass struggles to thrive. Trim trees and overgrown shrubs to allow more sunlight to hit patches of the lawn where the flowers are proliferating.

  • Drainage: Moist soil is where wild violets thrive, so improving the drainage of your garden or lawn will prevent these plants from taking up residence. Aerate your soil or mix in coarse organic material like sawdust, sand or gypsum.

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