I’m not into the perfect, velvety, weed-free lawn. That’s good, because I can’t have one. Our yard has too much shade. Shade is a good thing for so many reasons … but not for growing a lawn. Despite all the shady grass seed mixes, Kentucky bluegrass — the kind of grass we all desire — does not grow in shade. You might get it to limp along for a year or two, but eventually, it’s going to say, “This is too hard. I give up.”
Believe me. I have tried. I have reseeded our lawn countless times, trying various mixes. Each time, I was sure I finally had it right. Nope.
I’ll tell you what DOES grow in our yard: creeping Charlie. I’ll admit there’s something to be said for its charming purple flowers. I grudgingly admire the tenacity with which it spreads. And there aren’t a lot of ground-covering plants that grow as enthusiastically in shade. But, come on! It’s a weed! No self-respecting homeowner should tolerate creeping Charlie in the lawn.
So I declared war on creeping Charlie.
Remembering my training as a Master Gardener Volunteer, I first consulted a UW-Extension publication on controlling creeping Charlie. It recommended using a post-emergent, broadleaf herbicide in August to early September for maximum effectiveness. The bulletin said a second application might be required in the fall and possibly in the spring as well. It also noted that one should not use these chemicals more than twice on the same site within a year. That’s because Dicamba, one of the chemicals that kills creeping Charlie, can also do a number on your trees.
The herbicide was available as granules or a liquid that could be attached to the hose and sprayed on. We didn’t have enough hose to reach the whole yard, so I chose granules. The directions said to water it in thoroughly. (See not enough hose above.) So, I waited for a day with 100 percent chance of rain and spread the herbicide. Of course, it didn’t rain. There wasn’t even heavy dew.
A few weeks later, I bought more hose AND the liquid herbicide. I sprayed on the second application of Dicamba.
The following spring, there might have been a little less creeping Charlie, but I was not satisfied. I couldn’t apply more Dicamba yet, and I didn’t want to use more chemicals anyway. I decided to try pulling the creeping Charlie. I filled garbage bags with it. There were actually bare patches where once creeping Charlie had been.
Creeping Charlie doesn’t give up easily, though. Almost overnight — or so it seemed — the bare patches were filled in. The creeping Charlie was thicker than ever.
Several years have passed. I’ve become increasingly wary of using chemicals around our dogs (and ourselves), so I’m not spraying any more herbicide. Occasionally, in a burst of energy I fill yet more garbage bags with tendrils of creeping Charlie I’ve uprooted.
You could say I’ve lost the battle with creeping Charlie, but I prefer to think of it as a noble experiment with a new lawn alternative. How’s that for blitz?
Patrice Peltier lives in Spring Green and writes regularly for Wisconsin Gardening, Chicagoland Gardening and The Landscape Contractor magazines. Her work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living magazines.