By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor
Wild violets (Viola papilionacea) are a pretty winter perennial. They look much like cultivated violets, with their heart-shaped leaves and white or lavender colored flowers. They reach only 2 to 5 inches in height and bloom in spring. They're common in the eastern half of North America, and favor shady areas when they're young. Watch out: they can quickly take over your sunnier areas, as well.
Wild violets often begin in cooler, shadier areas of your garden but can quickly spread to become an invasive pest in sunny spots. They do like growing in lawns, which are more difficult areas to keep free of wild violets. Because they spread by both seeds and creeping rhizomes, they can be hard to keep under control.
Cultivation and Care
Although you can grow wild violets as an ornamental ground cover, do so only in areas where they will not invade turfgrass. Fertile soils are potential homes for wild violets, and they prefer moist conditions. They can be difficult to control because of their aggressive growth and resistance to many chemical herbicides.
Weed Control Techniques
The preferred method of controlling wild violets is by digging them up with a spade or digging fork. But make certain you dig up the entire root, which can contain seed-bearing capsules at the soil's surface. If you start digging a foot or so away from the center of the plant, this will loosen the soil, enabling you to lift the weed from beneath. This technique will reduce the number of root pieces that can break off and re-grow. In lawns, it works well to use a sharp knife to sever roots before pulling up the plants.
Allow the wild violet plants with roots to bake in the sun for a couple of days, and then compost them. If they hold mature seeds, compost them in a separate pile before you use it in your garden to nourish other plants.
Mulching is always a good method to use when you have weeds like wild violet. Even a layer of black plastic or landscape fabric can serve as mulch and keep your garden areas tidy looking by not allowing sunlight to reach the problematic weeds.
If you choose to use a chemical herbicide, pre-emergent varieties are most effective, but you must apply them on a regular basis.