Invasives at your garden center

This is the time of year when gardeners are considering new plants to be added to their landscapes. Often, they may take a stroll through their local garden center, checking out what is there and thinking about how it would look in their own yard. It is at this point that many may be misled into purchasing a plant based only on its looks and characteristics without being aware of its impact on the overall environment. For the truth is there are many perfectly lovely plants that you can find at garden centers that should never be brought home and given a place in your garden. 

These are non-native plants that can become invasive and overrun an area because the enemies that kept them in control in their native environment do not exist here. Just ask anyone from the southern United States about kudzu, a Japanese vine that was introduced to this country in 1876. There is a good reason why kudzu is called "the vine that ate the South." 

In spite of all the publicity in recent years about the dangers of invasive plants and in spite of increased awareness on the part of consumers, there are still a number of these plants that are routinely sold at nurseries large and small around the country. Here is a list of sixteen of potentially invasive plants that you should steer clear of and never add to your garden.

  1.  Wisteria sinensis
  2.  Phyllostachys spp. (Running bamboo)
  3.  Euonymus fortunei (Winter creeper)
  4.  Hedera helix (English ivy)
  5.  Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) - My next door neighbor actually has this sweet smelling vine in her yard and I wage yearly war against its encroachment into mine.
  6.  Euonymus Alatus (Winged burning bush)
  7.  Nandina domestica (Nandina/Sacred bamboo)
  8.  Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet)
  9.  Eleagnus umbellata (Autumn olive)
  10.  Pyrus calleryana  (Bradford pear) - This is one of the most overused plants in our area, often used by developers and their landscapers in new housing developments.
  11. Vinca minor (Common periwinkle)
  12. Berberis thunbergeii (Japanese barberry)
  13. Paulownia tomentosa (Princess tree/Royal paulownia)
  14. Clematis ternifolia (Sweet autumn clematis) - I actually planted this in my garden several years ago, ignorant of its non-native status and its capacity to become invasive.
  15. Eragrostis curvula (Weeping lovegrass)
  16. Spiraea japonica (Japanese spirea/Japanese meadowsweet) 
All of these plants are lovely to look at and many of them smell very sweet. In their native lands, they would be perfectly acceptable choices for a conscientious landscaper/gardener. But here, where they have no natural enemies, they can quickly outcompete native plants and become the dominant plant in an area with dire consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.

It behooves each of us, as responsible gardeners, to educate ourselves about any plant we are considering adding to our landscape and to make sure that we are not unleashing another "kudzu" on the world. 


  1. I used to have ligustrum at my old house and actually like it - it created a nice hedge along the back fence and there were always birds of all types hopping around in it, even nesting in it.

    1. That's the thing about all these plants, really. They are great plants that are useful in the home landscape. That's why they have been used and continue to be used so heavily. But they escape from the landscape and spread easily. They can take over an area, pushing out the native plants that other species rely on, to the detriment of the greater ecosystem.

  2. A commentator on rusty duck recently put me on to kudzu so I googled some images. Couldn't believe what I saw! Quite a few of the plants on your list are well used by the English gardener, although I've just dug up miles of vinca. It seems to like Devon rather too much!

    1. Kudzu really is an amazing story. Driving along highways in the South, you see vast stretches of land totally covered in the stuff. And that's the story with so many of these plants - like vinca in Devon. They really, really like it in the surroundings they've been introduced to and they tend to take over.

  3. Very informative. People probably choose them because they look good and smell sweet.

    1. Yes, it's understandable. They are all sturdy, easy-to-grow plants and they make a nice display, but they really can be deadly for the environment. Too often gardeners don't have enough information about the plants they are choosing and don't realize the harm they can do.

  4. Very informative. Honestly, I have come to the point where I am not introducing any more plants to my yard. I have been on this property for close to six years now. It is a different microclimate from my last house with cold winds blowing through valleys, extreme dry heat in the summer, and until this year very little rain in the winter. I am sticking with what will grow and most of that is stuff I have never grown before. But the major problem is getting anything to make it through all the seasons. It has been humbling to me as a gardener. But I do know the dangers of invasive species are real and it is good to have a list, should I get tempted:)

    1. MIcroclimates are just one of the the things that gardeners have to pay attention to, one of the most important things. I have several within my half acre yard and they can do a number on one's best laid plans.

  5. Oh, beautiful sweet autumn clematis. It's a beautiful ornamental here in upstate New York. I don't believe it is considered an invasive here, but I did see, on White Flower Farms (Connecticut) website, a warning about it being "invasive in warmer climes". But we have enough problems with invasives here - wild rose, Russian Olive, Japanese Knotweed, just to name three.

    1. You make a good point: Plants that are benign in some places can be highly invasive and problematic in others.


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