Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson

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Plant of the Week - Wild Onions


Never fails – every late winter / early spring one of the first things to green up and start growing (winter annuals already growing) are clumps of wild onions or garlic (next to the chickweed, henbit. [purple deadnettle and hairy bittercress).And they pop up in both the lawn and the landscape beds. Wild onions are cool season perennials and begin growing before the turf and most weeds become active. Both species have slender, waxy, smooth green leaves growing upward, and produce a strong odor (garlic or onion) following mowing. They grow from underground bulbs and bulblets, and tend to grow in poorly drained soils, but will grow just about anywhere. The invade landscapes by being transported in contaminated soils, or by distribution of the bulblets or seeds. These will germinate in the late fall months, as well as spring and even early summer (but seen mostly during the cooler months). Like edible onions and garlic, wild onion and wild garlic are members of the onion family. While both have thin, green, waxy leaves, wild garlic are round and hollow, while wild onion are flat and solid. Leaves of wild garlic are hollow and branch off the main stem. Leaves of wild onion are flat, not hollow, and emerge from the base of the plant. Wild garlic flowers may be green or purple; wild onion flowers are generally white or pink.  So now the question is, how do you get rid of them?

Wild Onion Control:

1.) Physical RemovalThis is probably one of the most effective means of control. But, for best results, you must remove everything that belongs to that clump. Stems, roots, bulbs, and closely surrounding soil. Dig the entire clump, making sure to get everything, and pitch it out, soil and all. Replace the hole with new soil.

2.) Cultural PracticesMaintaining a healthy lawn and correcting drainage problems may help reduce infestations. 

3.) MowingThis will not kill the wild onions, but regular mowing will weaken the plants as well as preventing them from setting seed or bulblets.

4.) ChemicalsIn the lawns, these are considered broadleaf weeds, but not all broadleaf weed killers are effective against wild onions. Sprays labeled for wild onion control are most effective applied in spring or fall and will require repeated applications (be persistent). The foliage is very waxy and makes it difficult for herbicides to adhere and penetrate, so either bruise the plants by hitting with a stick, or even spraying after mowing may help. Or use a surfactant to help the herbicide adhere and work more effectively. Bonide’s Weed Beater Ultra or Fertilome’s WeedFree Zone work great in cooler temperatures and does a nice job on wild onions. You can reseed within 2 weeks after application. In the landscape beds, using a non-selective herbicide - Roundup, Fertilome’s KillzAll, etc., and again, bruise the plants prior to spraying, or add the surfactant to the herbicide before spraying, and it will take repeated applications to finally get the clump under control.

If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em! Yes, wild onions/garlic are very edible. Feel free to cut and use the greens from wild onions (make sure they have not been sprayed with herbicides) in salads, soups, or wherever you would use chives or green onion greens.


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