How to eliminate wild violets from a vegetable garden

Q: My vegetable garden is totally taken over by those wild violets. I keep pulling and they keep growing. Endless job. I am planning to weed and turn over the garden and weed again. I’ve heard that the best time to spray to kill the wild violets is in late fall. My question is if I do spray in the fall — what should I use so that I can plant the vegetables again in the spring. Is it safe to spray weed killer and plant in the spring? Thanks

— Ed Frack

Sue Kittek


Sue Kittek

These cute little plants can be a nightmare for both lawn and vegetable/flower garden lovers. The sweet things are very invasive and very difficult to remove. They spread by seed and underground root. Digging, as Ed mentions is tedious and at best, a long-term, perhaps lifetime, job. However, it is one of the environmental safest and best choices, particularly in areas where edible plants will be grown.

If you must use an herbicide, select one that specifically targets wild violets, follow all instructions and use as little as possible. Wild violets are perennial, increasing removal difficulties as you must fight not only the new ones, but any old plants or bits of roots you missed the previous season. The leaves have a waxy layer that provides protection from many herbicides.

The best time to deal with violets is in the spring or fall. I found no agreement on which is better. However, fall would seem the best for any area that you plan to grow in the spring. Spot application is highly recommended but seems almost as intensive as digging each one out.

You need a post-emergent herbicide to be effective; one specially listing safe for food gardens. A nonspecific broadleaf herbicide, such as glyphosate, must be applied to the stem/leaf of the offending intruder. Any overspray will affect nearby plants so always use on a day with no breezes. Note that this is a systemic herbicide, although listed for use on food crops, it is known to carry risks to the health of wildlife and people. Personally, I don’t use glyphosate and generally avoid chemical solutions on anything I intend to eat but that is a personal choice. Vinegar (at least 5% acetic acid) is one of my favorite solutions but is only effective on young plants. An excellent overview of weed eradication in the vegetable garden is available from the University of Georgia  Extension, Weed Control Options for the Vegetable Gardener (

In the Garden

The most important task in our garden this week has been eliminating standing water. It is surprising how many places rainfall can collect. We found a major source in a poorly aligned gutter. It forms a puddle, used as a birdbath, just before the downspout. We have contacted the gentleman who keeps our gutters clear to adjust the offending gutter and eliminate that problem.

Week in the Garden

Planting: Plant but protect from heat: late-season cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peas and broccoli for late summer or early fall harvest. Sow seeds that require a cold period for germination, i.e., poppies. Start thinking about adding asters and mums to your fall display, either in the garden or as part of a container display. Hold new plants until the weather cools. Gather pots together to make watering easier.

Seasonal: Stake tall flowers and provide supports for vining plants. Allow the final flush of flowers to go to seed. Many provide food for the birds and small mammals during the fall and winter. Take cuttings of those annuals that you want to winter over or other favorite plants that have grown too big to move indoors. Order asparagus, rhubarb, bulbs, flower and fruit plants, and shrubs for fall planting. Shop nurseries for end-of-season bargains or new fall arrivals. Weed often and cut off flowers of any weeds you don’t get pulled out. Deadhead flowers and trim damaged, diseased and dead foliage to keep beds tidy and encourage reblooming. In particular, keep irises and daylilies from forming seedpods. Allow peony greens to grow until fall and then cut back. Prune summer-flowering shrubs about two weeks after flowering. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden and establish a schedule for reapplication, usually at four to six week intervals

Lawn: Purchase seed for fall lawn projects and broadleaf weed control. Plan sodding projects and order sod for early fall installation. Treat for chinch bugs and sod webworms. Purchase fertilizer and, if desired, apply now until mid October. Cut as needed, based on growth not schedule, to a height of about 2 ½ to 3 inches tall. Use a sharp blade. Keep newly seeded or sodded lawns watered; supplement rain in weeks where less than an inch. Apply preemergent crabgrass control. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden; reapply at four to six week intervals.

Chores: Start getting plants ready to bring in. Repot those that need it and pot up those you want to winter over indoors. Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Check hoses; replace washers and correct leaky connections. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall planting. Water any recent plantings and containers anytime we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Note damaged caulking around doors and windows. Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.

Tools, equipment, and supplies: Check spring equipment and supplies, repair or replace. Sharpen blades, get fresh gas, check and/or replace oil. Send mowers and tractors for tune-up or repair.

Safety: Clear lawns of debris before mowing and make sure pets, children and others are well away from the area being mown. Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50 F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.


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