By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor
Wild garlic (Allium vineale) is a perennial weed that grows in lawns, fields and other areas in the fall and spring. It is an undesirable weed in fields growing grains and areas where dairy and beef cattle graze because of its ability to introduce a garlicky odor and flavor to the end products. Native to Europe, wild garlic is found throughout the eastern and central United States. Its 3-foot tall leaves look a lot like a grass, but garlic's leaves (as well as the stems) are hollow. In late summer, wild garlic sends up a flower spike with small, greenish-white flowers at its tip.
Wild garlic grows in all but the coldest of climates. It seems to love wheat fields, which creates multiple problems for farmers who do not want their crop to taste of onions or garlic when it's made into Wheaties. It grows wild in fields and along roadsides. Wild garlic is not a new weedy pest: it was a huge nuisance for farmers in the early 20th century. From 1911 until 1920, Purdue University devoted most of its field research to wild garlic eradication. After the 1920s, it became less of a problem, as tractors emerged, providing deeper tillage that buried corms too deeply for them to grow.
Cultivation and Care
You can prevent the plant from going to seed by snipping the ends of the leaves on a frequent basis. Clippings can be used in salads or other dishes calling for garlic or onions. If you find wild garlic in your garden, it's a good idea to keep it under control because it can become invasive and can interfere with the successful growth of plants in the pea and bean family.
Weed Control Techniques
Hand digging individual plants is an effective method of control; but be sure to pull the entire root, with its small corms, which will grow into more plants. To ensure that you get the whole root system, begin digging up to one foot away from the center of each plant. Solarizing the soil where it grows can help control wild garlic a great deal: Simply cover the affected area with clear, heavy plastic for at least two months during the warmest part of the year. Your lawn will also die; but when you re-plant it the following spring, it will be wild garlic free. If you choose a chemical herbicide, apply it in the early fall or early spring, but bear in mind that it is very hardy and one application of herbicide might not kill your plants.