Beware the wild violet

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Even with decades of gardening experience I find that I still learn new things each year. I find that part of the fun of it. Learning for me often is a result of mistakes. A mistake I am just recognizing this Spring is my past passive tolerance of wild violets in the garden. In most of the garden which receives annuals, tillage occurs in the Spring and the Fall which is adequate to keep the violets under control. The small area devoted to perennials is another matter. Currently that consists only of asparagus and strawberries but formerly included a patch of ginger plants. I was aware of violets lurking among the ginger plants but did not perceive them as a problem. A couple of years ago I removed the ginger as it was not really serving any purpose. Violets there spread vigorously into the adjoining strawberry patch. Violets have rhizomes which spread readily and are not easily removed by hand weeding. They have now spread a distance of over 20' through the strawberries and are present thickly enough to provide some serious competition as well has making the berries harder to see for picking. The only solution I see is to propagate some this year's crop of strawberry daughters into a violet free area of the garden and then repeatedly till the current strawberry patch until violets are not longer appearing. I suspect this will take several years. The take away here is do not tolerate wild violets in your garden.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Would you consider solarizing part of the violets to see if that kills them? It requires plastic or glass cover, but it might be easier on the soil as a whole. On the other hand, violet seeds might persist unbothered in the soil.
I have a love-tolerate (never hate) relationship with violets. If only we had the kind that smell nice, I might never uproot a violet. I have even thought about getting some fragrant ones to plant under the oak tree out front, but I don't think they'd survive here.

Sometimes I reason that violets will occupy the soil spaces that worse weeds could move in on --quack grass, bermuda grass, bindweed, sandburs, nutsedge-- and leave the violets to prettily cover. But by the next year I regret it. Still again and again I leave those little charmers. And speaking of "leave", I see that when one actually cultivates violets, those leaves can grow large, dense, green and lush, occupying a visual niche similar to hosta yet in the sun.

If my husband can recover the photos he accidentally deleted from my laptop I have a botanical lesson as to one of the reasons violets are so darned persistent....Maybe this evening or tomorrow if all goes well.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Violets make non-showy flowers that grow down into the soil. They form seed without pollination, so the seed is right there where it needs to be, ready to sprout whenever conditions are right.

Here is a plant with its leaves pulled off for a better view of the flower that has been embedded in the soil. Can you see it? It looks kind of like a mung bean sprout.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

See if you can spot four subsoil flowers in this photo.

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

This morning I planted strawberry daughters from the original patch into a new location. I spent a bit of effort going through the root ball of each daughter to extract the comingled violet plants and roots. I encountered a number of those asexually produced underground seeds. I would not have known what they were but for your posting. I will wait a week or so before tilling under the original patch as it is still yielding a small serving daily. I just hope that by waiting a week to till that some of the above ground seeds do not reach viability.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I have to credit reading this old book for having directed my attention to this. Once you see this phenomenon, you never fail to see it when digging violets-- or invaded strawberries, I suppose.

I can't imagine anything worse then quack grass (the worst weed in my local I think), but this wild violet might just be it. Fortunately, it doesn't grow here. Good luck.

I have the sweet violet, viola odorata in my garden and i am systematically eradicating it as it is a garden thug and will outcompete almost anything else in the garden. Plants that have been surrounded by violets breathe a sigh of relief and start to flourish when I dig the violets out. Whoever coined the term 'shy, retiring violet' certainly wasn't a gardener.
Clare, yes, the sweet violets also have those pesky underground seeds. And roots and stems like rope.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Clare: thanks for those photos. I had no idea that violets have that particular super power.
Up thread you asked >Would you consider solarizing part of the violets to see if that kills them?
I doubt that this would work. In the past I have done some non-rigorous experimentation with solarizing and find it to be less effective than what you may have read on the net would suggest. It can render some seed non-viable if it is on or above the surface but that is about it. There are even a few plants that can survive in a completely sealed coldframe in the heat of the Summer. Since those violet rhizomes can be several inches deep I believe they would escape unharmed as the temperature gradient as you go downwards in the soil is very steep. I start my sweetpotato slips in a plastic covered PVC frame coldframe which I leave completely sealed until the first shoots emerge. Despite less than 2" soil cover on the tubers they do not get hot enough to be killed.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

BDJ, it is nice to see you come around after what seems like an extended absence.

Thanks, Tatorman, I sometimes completely forget that Green Wizards exists for months at a time, then remember with a pleased "oh" of surprise:) It's nice to be here again and visit and catch up with the news..

Violets are thugs? Really?
I must have a different kind in central Pa. I'd like it if they grew in my shady areas and covered the mud.

I've got clay, heavily amended with tons of organic material, turning it into quite good topsoil.

I've dug up clumps of violets and moved them and they die.

My violets are never aggressive.

Sweet Tatorman's picture
Sweet Tatorman's picture

Teresa, I was surprised to learn when I recently looked into it that there are 100's of species of violets. It seems reasonable that they might vary considerable in their thuggish tendencies. There are several dozen species in my State alone and likely as many or more in yours. If you are determined to establish them in your environment you may want to look further afield in you violet-napping for types that appear to be doing well in the type of environment you wish to establish them.
Photo below of the thugs in my strawberries. This is at the edge of the strawberry patch where the violets are more visible. Moving further into the patch the strawberry leaves mostly rise above the violets. This variety appears to thrive in partial shade and responds by growing so thickly in the understory below the strawberry leaves as to crowd out any other type of weed that might normally grow below the strawberry leaves.

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There are certain violets you must grow if you want to see regal fritillaries (a kind of rare, native butterfly).

Regal fritillaries are unusually picky. They're edge butterflies. The larvae require violets in shade whereas the adult butterflies flutter over the meadow.

The largest concentration of regal fritillaries is at Fort Indian Town Gap, near Hershey. It's a *huge* PA National Guard base and artillery range. Artillery ranges need hundreds of acres of open land, surrounded by thousands of acres of buffer. As a result, Fort Indian Town Gap has extensive environmental programs showing off their near-pristine habitat.

During the first two weekends of July, civilians are permitted to walk the meadows looking for regal fritillaries (and other critters) with wildlife biologists around to tell you everything you ever wanted to know.

No violets at the edges of meadows, no regal fritillaries.

No, you are not allowed to stray from the path nor are you allowed to pick ANYTHING up. You also sign a *lot* of waivers before leaving for the meadow.

No, despite my copious array of edges, I don't have regal fritillaries in my yard.

Wrong kind of violets, I suppose.

Both violet flowers and greens (raw and cooked) are edible—you might want to double-check your particular species, as some can have medicinal effects that may not be desired. Eating them could maybe be another solution to the problem!

I actively tolerate violets to the point of transplanting violets when I dig a new vegetable bed as a sign of friendship to them. Since they are native, I figure some critter is using them. I also prefer them to other things that might cover the ground - I am seeing a shocking number of new aggressive non-native plants that I have not seen here in the past.

I agree about the strawberry issue. I bought a native strawberry and planted it near violets last fall when the violets had died back. Oops. Even though they were were vigorous to send out 3 runners before winter, they have been completely overwhelmed this spring. I will be moving moving them to their own location.

I also have a different, more demure violet with a silver tint in the leaves. I may have to discourage the aggressive violets in some areas to encourage it.

I’ll start paying attention to whether they hinder other plants I want.