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Gardening is an adventure and a journey. No two gardens are exactly alike and no two journeys are either. I’ve learned over the years, as a gardener, from successes and mistakes.
One of the first things I learned is that some plants thrive, to the point that they can overtake a garden, crowding out other plants and hogging water and nutrients. This is my list of plants gone wild!
Planting is purely a matter a choice, which is why my subtitle is “be aware of these invasive perennials” rather than “beware”. I choose to include a few invasive perennials, because I appreciate their beauty. I control their prolific spread. Others I dug up and removed because the effort to keep them in check proved too great.
With awareness, you can decide what works best for your garden. Check out your gardening zone. And then be aware that the following plants may spread into other areas of your garden or yard.
This plant officially counts as my first big gardening mistake. From east and southeast Asia, this low growing plant is often used by landscapers to border a walkway or edge a flower bed. Liriope produces green or variegated grass like leaves, and stalks of purple flowers. And it thrives…in full sun or partial shade, in a wide range of soil conditions and it’s drought resistant. Perfect, right?
Liriope is optimistically called a “vigorous grower”, meaning it quickly overruns its boundaries and invades other areas. Using landscape edging or other barriers can help restrict it, however I found it too difficult to control. Even after years of weeding it out of flower beds in the front yard, it still shows up.
And this classic beauty was my second big gardening boo boo. My grandson and I purchased one small ivy plant, years ago, and lovingly tucked it into a corner of a flower bed near the front deck. That ivy plant became a monster, covering all other plants in the bed and consuming them. Well, it didn’t literally eat them. However, ivy chokes other plants, depriving them of sunlight. They die.
Ivy is an evergreen woody vine. It is extremely aggressive, vining and climbing over other plants, shrubs, trees and even buildings. It took me a great deal of time to remove the ivy that spread from that one tiny plant. I’ve learned that the safest way to grow ivy is in a container…indoors!
Any plant name that contains the word “creeping” implies a warning…this plant spreads! Creeping jenny is considered a ground cover that tolerates both shade and sunlight. It’s a pretty yellow green in color and it’s commonly used to fill in areas where other plants won’t grow.
I added creeping jenny for exactly that reason, in a shady area with shallow soil. It thrives there and has indeed filled in the area. Because it’s in a contained space, I simply watch for it to encroach into the neighboring area, and pull it up when it does. For me, this easy to care for plant is worth having in my garden.
Commonly called Japanese spirea, this mounding shrub is simple to grow. The goldflame variety produces showy leaves and clusters of pink flowers. It tolerates full sun to light shade and handles heat well. Spirea bushes are aggressive self seeders, however, and can escape a garden if not tended. They’ve naturalized in areas of the eastern US.
I love my goldflame spirea though. The leaves are brilliantly hued, from bronzes, golds and reds in spring to to yellow-green in summer to finishing with copper and crimson shades in autumn. Plus, the flowers attract butterflies. I keep my spirea in check by pruning it back to the ground during the winter. I admit, it does get a little bigger each year!
Lemon Balm, Peppermint and Bee Balm
These herbs, all members of the mint family, are prolific producers and can overrun the garden. Extremely easy to grow, simply plant them in a sunny location and forget about them. They return year after year, often showing up in other flower beds, containers and the lawn. Lemon balm is one of the first plants to appear in my garden each spring and thrives until a hard frost nips it in late fall.
I love these herbs, for their wonderful health benefits, and happily tolerate their wildness. Their flowers attract bees. I keep mint in a contained area, however I give lemon balm and bee balm free reign, pulling up the excess plants.
These herbs do well in containers and that is the best way to keep them from spreading. Also, shear off the flowers before they go to seed. That practice not only helps prevent new plants, it encourages the existing herbs to produce more leaves.
These gray-green plants with the soft fuzzy leaves are fun to include in the garden. They make perfect additions to sensory gardens and their stalks of purple flowers attract bees and butterflies. Native to Turkey, Armenia and Iran, lamb’s ear is considered an ornamental plant that tolerates various soil conditions. It thrives in partial shade to full sun.
I added three small lamb’s ear plants to my garden in 2014 and realized quickly that they aggressively fill in an area and pop up all over the garden and yard. I’ve even found new plants in the alleyway, pushing up through gravel. I’ve kept the plants under control by rigorously pulling up seedlings as they appear. It also helps to cut down the flower stalks, before they set seed.
Perhaps because we had so much rain last summer, most of my lamb’s ears did not return this spring. However, three plants appeared at the edge of their usual space. I know what three plants can do!
When I planned out my garden in 2014, I knew I wanted ornamental grasses. I love the way they wave in the breeze and their tassels in the fall are so gorgeous. And leaving the dried grasses up in winter creates interest in an otherwise drab garden. What I didn’t take into consideration is that those tassels are seeds. And the seeds go everywhere.
Ornamental grasses come in a variety of colors and sizes, with different shaped tassels. I still love having them in my garden. And…no other plant creates as much work for me! Because my garden area covers more than half of my backyard, there is a great deal of disturbed ground for those grass seeds to sprout up in.
While the clusters are small, ornamental grasses are relatively simple to remove. And remove them I must, or grasses would spread throughout the garden, choking out all other plants. If I miss any, they reveal themselves in the fall, as other plants die back to the ground.
Knowing what I know now, would I still have ornamental grasses in my garden? Yes. I’ve learned to walk the garden frequently and remove baby grasses. Plus, a heavy layer of mulch greatly reduces their numbers as well.
Have Your Plants Gone Wild?
There are other plants considered aggressive invaders. I’ve only listed those I’ve personally dealt with. Bamboo, for example, should never be planted in a garden. It is the most difficult plant to contain and even more difficult to remove. And pretty little periwinkle, a ground cover, can certainly run amok!
Truthfully, most perennials possess the potential to spread beyond their borders. That’s why I choose to plant them. They return every year and continue to fill in.
That’s okay. I love a little chaos in my garden. A profusion of flowers, herbs and plants and a bit of wildness makes my heart sing. How could it be otherwise, for a woman who continually seeks to “go beyond”?
Tell me about your garden. Do you have a story about plants gone wild?
Check out these posts in the Backyard Garden Series:
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