A few years ago, some new neighbors excitedly told me about the “wild chives” they found growing in an area behind their yard. Disappointingly, what they mistook for wild chives was actually wild garlic (Allium vineale).

If you have a lawn, you also may have been plagued with unwanted wild garlic. Or your lawn could harbor wild onion (A. canadense). These perennial grass-like weeds emerge from underground bulbs in the fall and persist through winter, dying back in early summer. If you have warm season grass, such as Bermuda or Zoysia, the weeds will be most noticeable in cool weather when the grass is dormant.

How does one tell these two common, stinky green weeds apart? The easiest way is by their leaves. Wild garlic has slender, glossy, rounded hollow leaves, while wild onion has thin, solid flat leaves. While both species flower, they usually get mown down before flowering.

To combat these weeds, maintain healthy, dense turf that can compete and prevent weed establishment. Mowing will weaken the plants, but it will not kill them, as the underground bulbs will persist for years. There are no pre-emergent herbicides that are effective. Post-emergent herbicides usually require multiple applications over several seasons. Treat wild onion and wild garlic in November and again in February before new bulbs form in March. You will probably have to reapply the herbicide in subsequent years, as well. The kind of herbicide to use varies based on the type of grass you have. Check out this website for herbicide information: https://ugaurbanag.com/how-do-we-control-wild-garlic-in-lawns.

Personally, I just dig up the clusters of wild garlic or onions, bulbs and all, with my favorite weeding tool, a garden knife or “hori-hori.” This is easiest done when the ground is very moist. Or, you can just ignore the problem since the above-ground leaves die back in early summer.

Since these lawn weeds are kin to our domesticated onions and garlic, you may wonder if you can consume them. Indeed you can, although you will probably find the taste very strong. The University of Tennessee Extension states: “Native Americans of the Cherokee nation used wild garlic for medicinal purposes, including as an expectorant and as a treatment for asthma and scurvy. The Rappahannock chewed raw bulbs for high blood pressure and shortness of breath. The Hopi used wild garlic for food. Allium species contain volatile oils and sulfur glycosides that can help rid the intestinal tract of gas and aid digestion.” Do not consume these lawn weeds if you have been applying pesticides to your turf.

Not all species of “wild onions” are undesirable. Many consider our native woodland ramps or wild leeks (A. tricoccum) a spring delicacy. The ramps have a bright white onion-like bulb emerging into two or three broad, lance-shaped leaves about 8 inches high. These basal leaves will wither away before the smooth, 6-to-10 inch flowering stalk, topped with a single 1-to-2 inch umbel of 20 to 40 flowers, matures. Gather the ramps foliage and bulb before the plant flowers to use in soups or salads. Even though ramps often develop in large colonies in the wild, if foraging please harvest sustainably by clipping only a few leaves and leaving the bulbs undisturbed.

Another native allium to cultivate as an ornamental is the woodland nodding onion (A. cernuum). A basal cluster of soft, slender flat leaves about 12 inches long emerge from an underground bulb before the 1-to-2 foot stiff flowering stalk appears. The flowering stalks bend at the top, where they sport loose clusters of up to 30 nodding bell-shaped pink (occasionally white) flowers.

Both ramps and nodding onion are available as plants or seed from many online nurseries.{span class=”print trim”}{span class=”print trim”}

Sources for more information:

University of Georgia Extension

“A ‘Stinky Story’ — Controlling Wild Garlic in Home Lawns” https://extension.uga.edu/content/dam/extension-county-offices/burke-county/anr/WIld%20Garlic%20Control.pdf

Clemson University Extension


Wild garlic and wild onion

https://www.google.com/url?client=internal-uds-cse&cx=017235838535360921777:c acq9hxbuc&q=https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/wild-garlic-wild-onion-2/&sa=U&ved=2ahUKEwjhp yVz6jlAhWFneAKHe81AsAQFjAGegQIBhAC&usg=AOvVaw31GDWqFrU1pG9nf9B Ay0a

University of Tennessee


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Carolyn Puckett is one of many UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. For more information or questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners.

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