Spring is just a week away! I’ve been seeing daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, spring wildflowers, pussy willows, and some cherry trees flowering already. The perfect spring temperatures and rainfall are making lawns turn greener and greener each day and before we know it, it’ll be time to mow!
As we start to draw more attention to our lawns, we’ll also probably be drawing attention to the dandelions, clover, and violets, which will begin blooming soon. Homeowners across the nation will be reaching for the lawn sprays, since for the lawn perfectionist, these weeds are undesirable. I’m asked questions all the time on how to get rid of them, especially violets.
My answer usually goes along with, “It will take time, effort, and expense. Even so- it doesn’t work as a one-time thing. A lot of toxic chemicals will have to be continually reapplied to keep dandelion and clover out. Violets are impossible. Nothing out there gets rid of them except hand pulling.”
However, I’d like to propose we think at how beneficial these weeds are instead of as something that disrupts the look of lawn grass.
Imagine you’re a solitary bee, and you’ve been hibernating all through winter outside in a tiny shape shift home where some leaves collected around the base of a plant.
*Native bees are solitary, meaning they live by themselves, and not in a hive. Many native bees can’t sting and/or are much less aggressive than honey bees and won’t sting unless they get in your clothes or if you try and squash it. Some live in the ground, they shouldn’t be mistaken for wasp.
You wake up because it’s pretty warm outside now, and guess what, you’re ravenous for some good food! So you stretch your wings and go out looking for some delicious syrupy sugary nectar. And there’s not much out there flowering so you nibble around, but nothing is very satisfactory. If only there were nice golden dandelion flowers or white fluffy clover blossoms…
Dandelions and clover are excellent early nectar sources for bees. Not much else is flowering early when that they will pollinate. If you want to help support our pollinators, leave some dandelions, clover, and violets in your lawn or garden.
Clover is actually beneficial in your lawn too. And only until the past 3 decades, clover was normal and actually desirable in lawns. Lawn companies have marketed clover out of our idea of a lawn. Clover is beneficial because it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and puts it into the soil, where plants, like grass, can use it.
Violets (Common Blue Violet Viola sororia) are a host plant for the fritillary butterfly. Meaning, that caterpillar, that’ll turn into a lovely orange and white butterfly, eats the violet leaf to grow up. Leaving violets helps these caterpillars since it’s really the only food they can eat.
There isn’t a chemical that will get rid of violets. They can be suppressed by certain chemicals (not Round Up) continually applied over and over, but it’s rarely worth the cost or effort.
There are other species have violets besides the one we see most in our lawn. Some have white on them or yellow flowers. They can be used as a vigorous shady ground cover in areas to suppress weeds or to substitute for lawn where it won’t grow in shade.
Unfortunately the caterpillars are not immune to lawn mowers. Mowing a taller height of 3-4″ may help avoid hitting the caterpillars on the violets. Also waiting longer in-between mowing, just until you need to. There is a bonus to mowing at this height- it’s healthier for the lawn and is the correct height to mow!
I doubt many caterpillars survive lawn mowing, so I just leave a small patch in a certain part of my garden for them. One year there were many violets in my vegetable garden and there were fritillary butterflies everywhere all summer. The next year I kept them better weeded, and I didn’t have the butterflies. This goes to show, pollinators need host plants!