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Cornell Cooperative Extension

June 16, 2014

Don't let gardening issue creep up on you

Last year at this time, my biggest challenge in the garden was with vetch.

I took it very personally that this not unattractive twining vine was climbing up everything in sight and moving at a speed that took me by surprise. 

Vetch spreads by rhizomes, underground rooting systems that give it the ability to come up in a number of places, seemingly at the same time.

Pulling it out can seem cartoonish, as the root keeps coming until it eventually breaks. I envision myself falling on my rump while pulling vetch.

This year I have a new nemesis, as I know many of you do judging by the phone calls we’ve received. 

The name of this gardening challenge is Creeping Charlie, aka ground ivy, gill-on-the-ground or Creeping Jenny. Creeping Charlie is a perennial weed in the mint family. Its creeping stems are four-sided and can put down roots at the nodes.

It’s thought that Creeping Charlie was brought from Europe to North America by settlers who thought it would make a good ground cover for shady areas. I guess they didn’t realize how much ground this plant is capable of covering in a relatively short period of time.

The leaves of Creeping Charlie look a bit like a geranium but smaller. They are round or fan-shaped with a scalloped edge. In the spring, the plant produces small, purple-blue flowers on short spikes.

This creepy creeper favors moist, shady areas of the lawn or garden, so you want to keep your lawn as thick and healthy as possible to make it more difficult for Creeping Charlie to get a roothold.

It’s also right at home in the sun, is not affected by mowing, and is fond of buildings, retaining walls, fences and other undisturbed areas.

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Cornell Cooperative Extension