Not so wild about violets? Pick ’em and eat ’em

WASHINGTON — Not so wild about wild violets?

Myra in Arlington writes: “What is the best way to get rid of wild violets in the lawn?  We have both the purple & Confederate types. It started out with just a few in a bed on the edge of the lawn, but after a few years, they have spread out into the lawn. Now that I’m retired, I want to focus on taking care of them this year.”

Well, I know it’s not what you meant, but I think that ‘taking care of them’ is a great idea. Wild violets — both the typical violet-colored form and the beautiful white-streaked-with-thin-lines-of-purple type that you’re calling “Confederate” bring unchallenged natural beauty to landscapes in the spring. And they’re as ephemeral as Spring bulbs, vanishing when their short season is over.

Eat Your Weedies!

Myra in Arlington wants to know how to get rid of the wild violets in the lawn.

Pick and eat them, Myra! Like their close cousins — pansies, violas, and Johnny jump-ups — wild violets are among the finest edible flowers available.

The best way to enjoy them is as a wildly colorful garnish on top of a green salad. Pick just the flowers, not the leaves, and then add them to the top of the salad at the very end. A handful of wild violet flowers makes 50 cents worth of mixed greens look like a million bucks!

And those flowers are the only edible source of rutin — a hard-to-find nutrient that has the power to prevent or reverse the visible effects of spider and varicose veins.

That’s right: Looking better in shorts and a bathing suit; that’s a benefit you won’t get from a lawn!

Enjoy the Butterflies they Breed

Wanting to know how to get rid of the wild violets in the lawn is a common request. But I also get a surprising number of emails from people who want the beautiful little purple flowers to pop up in their landscape in the Spring. And a few years ago, I got a great email asking for help from a violet-loving listener who was in despair because ‘something’ had eaten all the flowers off the violet plants in her lawn.

This led to my discovery that violets are host plants for the caterpillars that become fritillaries — large, colorful butterflies that look a lot like monarchs to the untrained eye. In late summer, the adults are attracted in large numbers to areas where violets bloom in the Spring, lay their eggs nearby, and then the caterpillars that emerge in the Spring feed on the violets.

So, let’s review:

  • wild violets are edible flowers with amazing nutrient benefits
  • the host plant for a family of big, beautiful butterflies.
  • And they provide welcome color in early Spring.

So maybe consider making peace with yours?

Wild Violets are Invulnerable to Herbicides

When people like Myra in Arlington ask how to get rid of wild violets in their lawn, my first suggestion is to pick and eat the edible flowers and enjoy the beautiful butterflies the plants attract. But if attack you must, don’t do so with herbicides.

Although delicate in appearance, violets are one of the most herbicide-resistant plants on the planet.

I repeat: chemical herbicides simply do not work on wild violets, so do not waste your money, risk your health, and destroy your wanted plants with useless spraying; the violets will be the last thing standing. If you can’t make peace with them your only real option is physical removal.

Dig Those Crazy Violets!

When wild violets show up in your lawn your best choice is to embrace their beauty, edibility, and attraction of butterflies. If remove them you must, get a good shovel — because wild violets are immune to chemical herbicides.

But they do grow in well-defined clumps that can be physically removed. Please toss the removed clumps into the woods, where the flowers will feed the caterpillars of beautiful butterflies.

If you have a ‘running’ lawn, like bluegrass, just fill in the holes with compost or high-quality screened topsoil and the grass will creep across the area and fill in naturally. Clumping grasses like fescue don’t have the ability creep sideways and will need to have those areas reseeded in mid-August. (Yes, you can try seeding them in the Spring but the odds are strong that you’ll have to redo it in August; Spring seeding is hardly ever successful with cool-season grasses.)

Oh — and if the area is filled with trees and/or doesn’t get at least four hours of sun a day, just leave it alone, because grass will never grow there.

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