What Is Ground Ivy (Creeping Charlie)?

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Ground ivy is a low-growing perennial weed that belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Also referred to as creeping Charlie or creeping Jenny, ground ivy is known for its rapid spread and ability to thrive in various conditions. While some gardeners appreciate its ornamental qualities, many consider it a nuisance due to its aggressive growth habit that can cause matts in your lawn and tangled stems in your gardens. 

At SKB, we understand how frustrating this can be, which is why we want to help you learn all about ground ivy so you can protect your lawn from unwanted growth and keep your grass looking its best!

What Does Ground Ivy Look Like?

Identifying ground ivy can be tricky, but it is essential for controlling this weed in your lawn. There are a few key characteristics that will help you identify ground ivy and distinguish it from other weeds. Knowing these traits will make it easier to spot the weed before it takes over your yard.

Ground ivy can be recognized by its distinctive heart-shaped leaves with scalloped margins. The plant's stems are square and have the ability to root at nodes, enabling it to spread rapidly across various landscapes. One of the key identifying features of ground ivy is its aromatic leaves, which emit a minty fragrance when crushed. The leaves grow all along the length of the stem, which helps differentiate it from similar-looking weeds like henbit or deadnettle. More notably, in the spring to early summer months, ground ivy produces small, bluish-purple flowers that are attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Key Characteristics:

  • Faint purple, blue, or white tubular flowers
  • Scalloped, heart-shaped leaves
  • Soft hairs covering the leaves 
  • Low, prostrate growth
  • Square stems
  • Rooting at the nodes

What Does Ground Ivy Do To Lawns?

Like almost every lawn weed, ground ivy can destroy an entire lawn if it is not dealt with properly. Ground ivy spreads rhizomes underneath the soil surface, which invade and overtake the healthy roots of your grass and garden plants. Your lawn needs strong, undisturbed roots for your grass to grow as tall and lush as possible, and that can not happen if weed roots are disrupting that growth. Aside from what ground ivy does to plants underneath the soil, the manner in which it grows above the soil is also a problem for your yard. 

As the name suggests, ground ivy grows low and gradually in a "creeping" manner. This low, vine-type growth leads to tangled mats of vegetation that block sunlight and other resources from reaching your grass. When a ground ivy invasion is taking over your lawn, it becomes much more difficult to water your lawn, fertilize the soil, mow the grass, or take care of any other basic lawn maintenance. Both above and below the soil in your yard, ground ivy will ruin all the hard work you put into your yard every season.

Life Cycle Of Ground Ivy 

Understanding the life cycle of ground ivy is essential for developing effective control strategies. Ground ivy is a perennial weed, meaning it can survive for multiple years. It spreads primarily through creeping stems that root at the nodes, allowing it to form dense mats of vegetation. Ground ivy also produces seeds, which can contribute to its spread over larger areas.

In the spring, ground ivy produces flowers that attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. After flowering, it sets seeds that can germinate and establish new plants. However, ground ivy primarily spreads vegetatively through its creeping stems, which enables it to rapidly colonize new areas and outcompete native vegetation.

When Does It Grow?

The life cycle of ground ivy begins in early spring with the germination of seeds that have been dormant over the winter months. Ideal temperatures for the growth of ground ivy are between 65 and 80, which is usually between May and August in Georgia. The seedlings then emerge from the soil and begin growing rapidly as they compete for resources such as light, water, nutrients, and space with other plants in your lawn or garden. As temperatures rise throughout spring and summer, the plant continues to spread both above and below ground through rhizomes that send out roots at each node along their stems. By late summer or fall, ground ivy has grown into dense mats that are difficult to remove.

Where Does It Grow?

Ground ivy loves damp soil, particularly in wooded areas. It prefers some shade, as too much direct sunlight and heat can cause the weed to go into dormancy. However, it can be found almost anywhere as long as there is some shade and moisture, including usually sunny areas of your lawn. Struggling lawns are the first choice of ground ivy because of the way in which it grows; if your grass is struggling to emerge and become lush, ground ivy will have an easier time spreading its low-growing stems. It's common to find ground ivy invading gardens, lawns, paths, driveways, and any other areas of your yard that are not receiving regular sunlight or care.

How Does Ground Ivy Spread?

Ground ivy is one of the most unique and aggressively spreading lawn weeds you will encounter. As mentioned earlier in the article, this weed spreads by both rhizomes and stolons that take root at every single node that is produced, which is one of the main reasons an invasion is so hard to control once it has begun. 

In addition to the creeping spread of this weed's roots and stems, it also produces seeds that are easily dispersed upon contact. The funnel-shaped flowers get insect-pollinated and set seed around mid-June. However, seeds of ground ivy are not usually viable in the soil for longer than a year, which is why vegetative reproduction is the primary way this weed spreads. 

How To Prevent & Control Ground Ivy

Preventing and controlling ground ivy in a yard requires a strategic and multifaceted approach. Here are some of the best ways to keep this invasive weed at bay. Call SKB if you want the most efficient commercial weed removal services in Georgia, and follow the steps below to properly remove ground ivy from your yard.

  • Regularly hand-pull or use a garden tool to remove ground ivy plants. Be sure to extract the entire root system to prevent regrowth.
  • Consider using a dethatching rake to remove the thatch layer, as this can help expose ground ivy and make it more susceptible to control measures.
  • Apply broadleaf herbicides specifically designed to target ground ivy. Look for products containing ingredients like triclopyr or dicamba, which are effective against this resilient weed.
  • Apply herbicides during the active growth periods of ground ivy, typically in the spring and fall.
  • Apply a thick layer of organic mulch in garden beds and around plants to suppress the growth of ground ivy. Mulching inhibits sunlight penetration, hindering the weed's ability to establish and spread.
  • Consider strategically pruning or thinning trees and shrubs to increase sunlight exposure. Reduced shade can discourage the weed's proliferation.
  • Opt for grass species that are more resistant to ground ivy and better suited to the specific conditions of your yard. Consult with local experts or garden centers for recommendations.
  • Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, as this can promote the growth of ground ivy. Instead, use a balanced fertilizer and follow recommended application rates.