How to Prevent Invasive Plants

Prevent invasive plants in your garden and learn which plants to avoid growing altogether.
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White Black Locust Petals

White Black Locust Petals

Black locust in flower

Black locust in flower

Which plants should be avoided in your neck of the woods? That's a good question to ask, says master gardener Paul James.

"One of the hottest topics in the world of gardening is invasive plants, and it's also one of the most misunderstood."

Invasive plants, also known as alien or even exotic plants, are those that are extremely adaptive and can quickly spread and take over native plant populations as well as food crops. In addition, invasive plants may also threaten animal populations by destroying their habitat and food sources. In fact, invasive plants cause more than $100 billion in damage in the United States alone.

Alternatives to Invasive Plants

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Invasive: Chocolate Vine

This large, twining, woody climber has spice-scented, cocoa-colored flowers which are sometimes followed by long fruits. Editor's note: Keep in mind that what is considered invasive can fluctuate wildly by region/zone. These alternatives aren't necessarily perfect or worry-free, but are other options to consider and can be better choices for the environment.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Alternative: Carolina Jessamine

This tenacious Southern climber makes quite a show on tree trunks and telephone poles, where its tough stems give it its nickname, “poor man’s rope.” Carolina jessamine smells divine, but admire it from a distance, as every part of it is highly toxic.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bruce Leander for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Invasive: Butterfly Bush

Buddleja davidii, butterfly bush, is deciduous evergreen shrub with weeping form. Lance shaped leaves grow on long arching stems. Tiny fragrant flowers attract butterflies. Profuse flower clusters cause branches to arch even more. While butterfly bush is an excellent choice for attracting butterflies and one of the most common plants on the market, it does spread like crazy and chokes out beneficial plants. Should you never plant it? No. Just be careful with it—or consider one of the many alternatives.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Alternative: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Native to the Southeast, Bottlebrush Buckeye features showy white and red blooms that are a natural hit with butterflies.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Invasive: English Ivy

Known to engulf entire homes, English ivy can kill trees if left unchecked.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Invasive: Privet

Yes, this invasive makes a great hedge -- if you don't mind shearing it every 48 hours! Privet reseeds like crazy.

Alternative: Florida Anise

This dependable broad-leaf evergreen shrub, native to the Southeast, Florida anise offers a lemon-lime fragrance.

Invasive: Japanese Honeysuckle

Favored for its sugary-sweet fragrance, Japanese honeysuckle is highly invasive.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Alternative: Trumpet Honeysuckle

Native to the Southeast, Trumpet honeysuckle's striking red blooms are a natural draw for butterflies and hummingbirds.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Invasive: Chinese Wisteria

Not all varieties of wisteria are invasive, but Chinese wisteria is, crowding out and killing other plants and trees and tending to flourish in just about any type of soil.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Alternative: American Wisteria

Far less aggressive is the American species, whose blooms are cone shaped and sparser than the Asian species.

Invasive: Japanese barberry

This deciduous shrub, Japanese barberry is deer resistant and drought tolerant, and known for its color variation. This shrub forms dense mounds that choke out native plants.

Alternative: Winterberry

Beautiful red berries (some varieties offer yellow ones) make winterberry a popular winter addition.

Nearly all invasive plants, including common weeds, came to this country from somewhere else. Some arrived accidentally, perhaps in the form of a seed hitching a ride on someone's shoe, as a volunteer in a shipment of nursery plants, or introduced on purpose as ornamentals.

So what can you do? Here are some points to ponder:

  • A plant that's invasive in the East isn't necessarily invasive in the West, and vice versa. There are a number of plants that behave beautifully in one part of the country while being a complete nuisance in another.
  • Become familiar with plants considered invasive in your area and refrain from planting them. And, by the way, invasive plants may include both terrestrial as well as aquatic plants. You might also ask local plant retailers to either clearly label or stop selling plants that are known to be invasive in your area.

Paul recommends that you not grow these plants no matter where you live. These plants are considered invasive or at least potentially invasive throughout most of the United States:

white poplar
black locust
shrub honeysuckles
smooth and glossy buckthorn
winged euonymus or burning bush
purple loosestrife
dame's rocket
giant reed grass (Arundo Donax)

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