How To Manage Creeping Charlie in Your Home Garden

If you give Creeping Charlie the tiniest bit of space, it will take over your lawn first, then head over to your neighbor's place.

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is an aggressive weed that thrives in shady, moist areas. As it grows, it forms a dense mat, stealing nutrients from your grass, flowers, and plants. If you don't catch it early, this pesky perennial quickly becomes a nuisance.

Early European settlers brought Creeping Charlie to North America for use as groundcover and medicine. Today, it grows in hardiness zones 2-12—in other words, just about everywhere. A member of the mint family, Creeping Charlie is also known as ground ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoffs, and cat's foot.

This article will guide you through identifying Creeping Charlie, several ways to control it, and how to prevent this invasive species from coming back into your yard.

How to Identify Creeping Charlie on Your Property

If you have ground ivy in your yard, you may notice the grass looking unhealthy first, or you may see the weed itself. Creeping Charlie can grow up to 30 cm high. Its glossy green leaves are 2 to 5 cm across with scalloped edges and square stems. In the spring through early summer, it produces clusters of blue to blue-violet flowers, with two or three funnel-shaped flowers to a bunch.

Creeping Charlie is an adaptable weed with shallow roots. A node at the base of each leaf stem can put down roots when it contacts the soil, a feature that makes it especially difficult to control. If you pull out all the vines but leave a little piece behind, the ground ivy will grow back.

If it weren't so aggressive, Creeping Charlie would be a good plant to have around. It's a pollinator that attracts bees and butterflies, and it's not toxic to people or pets (however, horses can get sick if they ingest a large amount). Some people mix it into drinks or use it to fight colds, headaches, and kidney problems.

But this invasive weed is aggressive, as well as pest and disease resistant. So Creeping Charlie is unstoppable—unless you stop it.

How To Prevent Creeping Charlie from Returning

What's the secret to keeping Creeping Charlie out of your lawn? Having so much lush, healthy grass that there's no room for weeds. Follow these tips to maintain a strong, healthy yard:

  • Since ground ivy prefers shady spots, prune your trees and bushes to allow more light through.
  • If you don't want to trim the trees, seed your lawn with grass seed products that thrives in the shade.
  • Aerate your lawn to loosen up compacted soil, creating better soil conditions for grass. You can rent or buy a lawn aerator or hire a professional.
  • Don't let the grass grow higher than 8 cm, and when you mow, don't cut more than one-third off the top of the blades. 
  • Water deeply and infrequently to encourage stronger roots.
  • Feed your grass a high-quality fertilizer.
  • Add mulch around your planting beds to keep Creeping Charlie from arriving or spreading.Getting Rid of Creeping Charlie

How to Pull Creeping Charlie Out of Your Yard

This natural control method works if you have a small amount of Creeping Charlie. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and gardening gloves to protect your skin, then follow these steps:

  • Pull off loose vines, then trim away the leaves and stems. Your goal is to see which stems are rooted to the ground so you'll know where to dig.
  • As you work, place all trimmings into a trash bag. Do not compost them or leave them to decay. Creeping Charlie is a resilient weed that will grow back.
  • Moisten the soil to make it easier to pull the weeds.
  • Using a pitchfork or rooting tool, loosen the soil around the stems. Then dig each one out with a weed-pulling tool designed for the job. Creeping Charlie has shallow roots, but make sure you dig as deeply as you need to get all of it out.
  • Check to see if you missed anything. Even a small piece can grow back.
  • Dispose of everything in the trash. Keep an eye on your lawn for new weeds to appear, then repeat the process.
  • Apply grass seed to any bare spots and maintain a healthy yard to prevent Creeping Charlie's return.  

How To Get Rid of Creeping Charlie by Smothering It

Another natural way to control Creeping Charlie is by blocking the sunlight with a tarp. Of course, that means the grass and other plants underneath the tarp will die, too, but once the weed is gone, you can reseed the area. Here are some tips on how to start a lawn from seed.

If you don't have a tarp handy, you can use layers of newspaper or cardboard instead. Here's what to do:

  • Place the tarp over the part of your yard with the Creeping Charlie. Since you can't see its underground roots, cover 6-12 inches beyond the weeds you see to kill all of it.
  • Place rocks or other heavy items on the tarp to hold it in place.
  • Wait a week, then check to see if the grass and weeds are dead. Everything should be brown. If you see any green, try again in a few days.
  • When all the plants are dead, remove the tarp and rake up the remains.
  • Seed your lawn and keep it healthy to prevent Creeping Charlie from coming back.

How To Get Rid of Creeping Charlie With Herbicide

If you don't catch Creeping Charlie early, a broadleaf herbicide products is the best way to kill it and leave the grass intact. Many broadleaf herbicides don't work on this weed, so buy one that specifically lists "ground ivy (Creeping Charlie)" on the label.

When using herbicide, follow these steps to get rid of Creeping Charlie:

  • Timing. Choose a day that isn't windy and doesn't have rain in the forecast for the next 24 hours.
  • Safety. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks, protective eyewear, and chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Mix the herbicide spray. Follow the product instructions to make sure you use the right amount of herbicide and mix it correctly in your garden sprayer.
  • Apply the herbicide. Spay a short burst of the product onto each weed. Keep the sprayer wand low and move your body from weed to weed instead of waving the wand.
  • Store or dispose of herbicide. Once you finish spraying, follow the product instructions and local law to store or dispose of any remaining herbicide.
  • Wash up. Be sure to wash your hands before you eat or drink anything. If the herbicide gets onto your clothing, launder it separately and take a shower.
  • No people or pets. Keep everyone off the lawn until the spray is completely dry.
  • No mowing either. Do not mow the lawn for two days after spraying, so the herbicide has enough time to get down to Charlie's roots.
  • Watch and wait. The ivy will wilt after a few days, but it can take a week or longer to die off. If Charlie is still hanging around after two weeks, spot treat those areas.
  • Seed your yard. You may be surprised by how little grass is left after killing the ground ivy. Reseed your lawn two or three weeks after spraying it.

Fall is the best time to apply herbicide because that's when Creeping Charlie pulls nutrients down to its roots to prepare for winter. If you apply herbicide at the same time, Charlie will put it down, too.

Autumn is also the time of year homeowners aerate, dethatch, and overseed their lawns. Before tackling these tasks, wait several weeks after applying herbicide so the herbicide won't affect grass seed growth.

Finally, if you've planted new grass recently, wait until you've mowed two or three times before applying herbicide.