When my family moved into a new home in the spring of 2005, the only plants growing in the garden were a rhododendron by the front door and a few scattered daffodils and ferns. I was delighted to see a stunning perennial pop up a month later.

Being little more than a fledgling gardener then, I didn’t know what the plant was, and to be honest, it didn’t matter: I was in love with my new purple beauty.

Two years later, after graduating from Cornell University’s master gardener program and working as a gardening columnist for my local paper, I sadly knew better: My favorite plant, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), was considered invasive in my home state of New York.

“But it’s not spreading on my property,” I whined to no one in particular. “It’s actually well-behaved.”

Further research revealed that, although some plants make their invasive nature known at home (looking at you, mint), others are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They seem well-contained in the garden but become downright thugs when their seeds are eaten by birds and dispersed elsewhere.

Those seeds grow into plants that outcompete native vegetation because they aren’t recognized as food by much of the local wildlife, which would otherwise keep them under control. Unchecked, they grow larger and eventually choke out native plants that provide food, nesting material and shelter for birds, pollinators and small animals. This disrupts the entire ecosystem.

Many state environmental agencies prohibit the sale and use of plants deemed harmful to human or ecological health. But some invasives are not officially designated, and others may be listed by one state but not another. To complicate matters further, some invasives continue to be sold at the retail level.

So what’s a gardener to do?

For starters, avoid any plant advertised as “vigorous,” “fast-spreading,” “quick-climbing” or a “rapid self-sower,” which are marketers’ code words for invasive. Next, familiarize yourself with your state’s list of locally invasive plants (those website addresses are compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at epa.gov/aboutepa/health-and-environmental-agencies-us-states-and-territories ).

Yes, I yanked out that purple loosestrife, which the EPA warns “clogs rivers and lakes, grows into mats so thick that boats and swimmers can’t get through and destroys food and habitat for our fish and water birds.” I replaced it with the tame but equally beautiful Liatris spicata, which has been a respectful resident of my garden for the past 15 years.

Here are seven other garden bullies and suggestions …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


Plant this, not that: Native alternatives to invasive plants

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