Who Wants to Kill Violets?

Violets are such sweet, little wildflowers that it's hard to believe that anyone other than Dear Leader would want them dead. But believe it or not, Grumpy regularly receives requests for advice on how to eradicate these gentle plants. Has the world gone over to the dark side?

This entreaty from Anne in Kentucky is typical. "My front lawn has been taken over by violets. What would be the best way to get a nice grassy lawn back? I assume I will have to use some sort of weed killer. Thanks so much!"

Violets are weeds? Well, yes, they are, if they're growing somewhere you don't want them to. Dooryard violet (Viola sororia), the South's most common type, frequently invades lawns. And once it establishes a beachhead there, even General George S. Patton and his Sherman tanks can't root it out.

There are two main reasons for this. First, this violet spreads rapidly by seed in an insidious way. The seeds come from both the showy flowers that appear in spring and whitish, petal-less flowers hidden beneath the foliage that bloom all summer. One plant soon becomes a patch.

Second, each violet grows a thick root called a rhizome that resists Roundup, Weed-B-Gon, and every other readily available weedkiller. Spray the leaves and they'll flop over for a week or so, but then stand right back up and laugh at you. The only sure way to control them is to dig them all up (every one!) by the roots. You might want to start this morning, Anne.

Or -- you could just relax, pour yourself a glass of wine, surrender to the inevitable, and let the violets take over. Dooryard violet grows only about 4 inches tall and offers pretty blue or white flowers standing just above its heart-shaped leaves (heart = love). One form, Confederate violet (Viola sororia 'Priceana'), features white flowers with blue veins. I always look forward to seeing its blooms adorning my no-maintenance, shady moss lawn.

You can spray all you want, but just like the South, dooryard violet will rise again.

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