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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Wild Violets

As a young girl I had a different sense of what constituted a "weed". I would make gardens by transplanting various volunteer plants I found sprouting up in the garden or the yard. This got me into plenty of trouble! Most of the time what I cultivated was a carefully manicured garden of weeds, or occasionally flowers grown from seed.

One of the plants I routinely transplanted from our yard was wild violets. To me, they were and still are a very pretty flower. Little did I know that many people consider them weeds and regularly wage war on them each growing season!

Over the years, the questions I receive on wild violets are from two extremes: people either want to know how to kill them, or how to encourage them to grow. There appears to be no middle ground, at least among those that take the time to contact me.

When I first wrote about wild violets years ago, someone read my article and wanted to know what "special technique" I had developed for transplanting violets, as they had attempted to transplant violets dozens of times into a particular place in their yard with no success.

My technique to transplant violets was about as special as a 12 year old girl can come up with—I simply dug them up, with a generous amount of soil around the roots. I transplanted them where I wanted them to grow and watered them in well. The violets did the rest.

I suspect that the issue this person had was not the transplanting technique, but the site itself. The person described a shady spot under a large tree that lacked any sort of grass growing beneath it. They had read that violets liked shady locations. This is true, but upon questioning, the person admitted that nothing at all was growing under the tree, and the soil was very dry.

Wild violets grow best in shady, moist soil. Most grass grows poorly in these conditions, leaving little or no competition for violets to move in and take over. Without having any other indication of problems at the site related to soil nutrients or pH, I really think the dryness of the site was what prevented violets from successfully establishing there. It is possible for violets to survive in a sunny or dry site with extra effort on watering.

People also routinely call me looking for help with sites that are nothing but violets, and they have tried and tried to eradicate them with no luck. If wild violets are threatening a hostile takeover of your yard, and you are not ready to surrender quite yet, you may have a lengthy battle ahead of you. Wild violets are classified among weeds as "hard to control". They are perennial, and have a very dense root system that can be hard to eradicate by pulling.

Effective chemical control of wild violets is limited. Products like Roundup® containing glyphosate will eliminate violets, and any other green vegetation in the area it touches. Post-emergence broadleaf herbicides specifically listing wild violets on the label may be applied, but unfortunately they are often ineffective, even with repeat applications. Formulations available only to commercial lawn and garden operations also have limited effectiveness on wild violets.

If you are willing to sacrifice some of your lawn to violets, it really is a good thing in my opinion. Violets grow where most grass will not, they provide beautiful spring color, and if you have not sprayed herbicide on them, the flowers are edible. I recently saw a small bottle of candied violets for sale in a gourmet food shop. Who knew that most of us have gourmet weeds growing in the backyard?

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