Wild garlic and wild onion are two common lawn and garden weeds that are a lot like teenage acne: they appear where you don’t want them and, in some folks, cause lots of anxiety and concern. At this time of year these weeds look like green splotches on the beautiful brown canvas of dormant centipede and bermudagrass lawns.
Wild garlic (Allium vineale) is a herbaceous bulb that was probably introduced to the U.S. from Europe by early settlers in the early 1700s. This cool-season weed appears in the fall and matures and dies down in late spring. Wild garlic reproduces primarily by above- and below-ground bulbs.
Wild onion (A. canadense) is not as common as wild garlic in our state. Unlike wild garlic which has hollow leaves and greenish-white flowers, wild onion has flat, solid leaves and pink flowers.
Wild garlic and wild onion pose no harm to your lawn. However, you may find it unsightly. If these weeds have invaded your landscape, there are a few things you can do.
1. Do nothing. Once your dormant lawn turns green and the wild garlic and wild onion begin to dieback, you will forget about them until next fall when they will reappear. Some people feel uncomfortable with the “do nothing” approach. In fact, they feel as if something should be done for the neighbors’ sake. O.k., then, here’s what you do. Since wild garlic looks so much like cultivated onions, tell your neighbors that you’re growing fancy French scallions in your lawn. Yeah, tell them that they make their best growth in the lawn, especially when they’re planted in random, haphazard rows . Who knows, maybe a neighbor or two will believe you.
2. Spray-paint the wild garlic brown to match the color of your dormant lawn. Hey, if women can get away with using cosmetics to hide a few blemishes on their faces, you should be able to camouflage the clumps of wild garlic in your lawn.
3. Pull them out by hand. Pick a day when the soil has been moistened by a nice, soaking rain. With a flat-headed screwdriver, loosen up the soil around a clump of wild garlic. Then, grab the base of the weed and slowly tease it out of the ground. Since wild garlic produces a bunch of underground bulblets, try to lift them all of them out. I do it bare-handed because I love the heavenly aroma of garlic.
4. Apply a herbicide. Wild garlic is difficult to control with herbicides because it produces several bulblets that do not sprout all at once. Some bulblets will sprout one year and others will not emerge until the following year; therefore, it can take 2 or 3 years for a postemergence herbicide to control the entire plant. An effective herbicide for controlling wild garlic and wild onion are the “three-way” types that contain 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba (such as, Weed-B-Gon® and Trimec®). Treat wild garlic and wild onion now–in late November to December, which is when they’re most susceptible to herbicide applications.
If necessary, make a followup application in late February or early March. Please read and follow the label directions when using any pesticide.
If wild onions and wild garlic are growing in your flower borders or among your azaleas and other shrubs, refer to approach #3.
Fortunately, we’ll lose sight of wild garlic and wild onion in late Spring. At that time, no one will know if you accepted or got rid of these blemishes.