What Is Wild Garlic and How Do I Get Rid of It?
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In the kitchen, the aroma of garlic is a pleasure. In your yard, not so much. Here's what to do if unwelcome wild garlic is growing in your lawn.
Introduced to North America from Europe, wild garlic is now prevalent in the Southeastern U.S. and Pacific Northwest. It is often mistaken for wild onion, a related plant that is similar in appearance and smell. If you’re not sure what the newly sprouted clumps of round, grass-like blades are in your yard, rub one of them between your fingers. If it smells like your favorite Italian dish, you probably have a wild garlic infestation.
What Is Wild Garlic?
Wild garlic is a perennial that reproduces primarily via its underground bulbs and aerial bulblets, although it does also have seeds. Its leaves sprout in the cooler months, so you may not notice an infestation until the fall.
Similar in appearance to chive plants, wild garlic grows throughout the winter and spring. When the temperatures soar, the leaves die, but the bulbs will resprout again with the cool fall temperatures. Then the plant will spread aggressively through your turfgrass, making your lawn look uneven and patchy.
Wild garlic can easily be mistaken for its near-twin, wild onion. Both thrive in various soil conditions and cool temperatures, and both are drought-resistant. Wild garlic, however, has clumps of two to four round, hollow leaves and a paper-like membrane covering the bulbs.
Wild onions, on the other hand, have flat, non-hollow leaves that grow in much larger clumps, with bulbs that are covered in a fibrous net.
Is Wild Garlic a Weed?
“Wild garlic is considered a noxious weed plant,” says gardening expert Bryan McKenzie of The Bumper Crop Times. “It is highly invasive and can ‘steal’ nutrients from turfgrass and other plants. You should remove wild garlic as quickly as possible.”
Is Wild Garlic Safe?
Although wild garlic is edible and non-toxic, McKenzie says pets will probably hate the aggressive “garlicky” sensation if they chew it. It is often used in Europe to flavor food. McKenzie suggests using the plants you pulled from your lawn to spice up a variety of dishes, but only if you can confirm they haven’t been treated with chemical herbicides.
Wild onions, however, are toxic to animals and humans. So be extremely cautious when identifying wild garlic if you plan on eating it.
How To Get Rid of Wild Garlic
The most effective way to banish wild garlic from your lawn is old-school hand pulling, but you’ll need to be meticulous about removing the bulb and bulblets or they will quickly grow back. It’s painstaking work and may need to be repeated for a few consecutive seasons before your lawn is completely rid of this troublesome weed.
- Hand-pulling: Wild garlic bulblets pull away from the mother bulb when the plants are hand-pulled, so removing them manually from your lawn or garden is tricky. If the soil is loose or moist, you can try to carefully pull up each clump by hand. If the leaves break off or the soil is compact and dry, however, you’ll need to dig up the bulbs with a small shovel. Remove the entire clump of bulbs, which are sometimes six inches or more below the ground, and visually inspect the soil to make sure you’ve gotten them all. Discard the plants and their bulbs in a plastic garbage bag. Do not add this plant debris to your compost.
- Chemical weed killer: Chemical herbicides should only be used in extreme cases, as the toxins they contain can harm people, pets and wildlife. In addition, wild garlic leaves have a waxy outer layer that makes them resistant to many weed killers, and their bulbs can lie dormant deep beneath the soil for years. “Purchase a post-emergent herbicide and apply it multiple times for at least three seasons in a row,” McKenzie says.
How To Prevent Wild Garlic From Coming Back
“Unfortunately, there are no pre-emergent herbicides to prevent wild garlic from coming back,” McKenzie says. “You need to destroy the bulbs with post-emergence herbicides and keep using them year after year until no sprouts appear in the spring.”
- Hoeing: According to McKenzie, hoeing is the best natural remedy to keep wild garlic at bay in the garden. “Hoe in the winter or in the early spring to prevent new bulbs from growing,” he says. Like hand-pulling and applying weed killer, it will take at least a few years of routine prevention before you are completely free of this tenacious weed.
- Mowing: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you don’t mind the garlic aroma of these plants, you can simply trim them to the same height as your turfgrass and learn to live with them. “Mow the lawn regularly to prevent the sprouts from spoiling the look of your yard,” McKenzie says.