Flowering shrubs and lush greenery might seem like a bonus in the garden, but not every plant is desirable—and some are downright destructive. Yup, we’re talking about invasive species, including flora that grow too big, spread seemingly overnight, and push out native plants and ecosystems.
“The wrong plantings end up competing with local varieties for light, water, and nutrients—and some invasive shrubs even bully native bushes, preventing them from growing altogether,” explains Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president and co-founder of Topiarius, a landscape design firm.
Invasive plants are strong, adapting to a wide set of environmental conditions, which means they can thrive on poor plots of land.
“Some displace flora that native insects rely on, causing a cascade of ecological harm,” adds Kitty Connolly, executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation, a California organization that advocates for native plants.
Think it can’t get any worse? There are shrubs and flowers that become invasive if their grower doesn’t control them (this is where you come in!). All in all, if you care about your yard, you’ll want to prune (or dig up) these six plants so they don’t run amok.
Pretty, isn’t it? This flowering vine is so popular that it’s been incorporated into some city logos in California, reports Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping. But the Chinese and Japanese varieties are invasive, growing up to 60 feet tall. Pruning is the solution, says Jenkins-Sutton.
“Cut it back in July or August after the flowering ends, clipping all the side shoots and long tendrils to 3 or 4 inches, or six buds,” he recommends.
Next, chop the main stems to restrict the amount of space they take up. This will keep it from blocking light near the house, getting under roofs and gutters and tearing into drain pipes, he adds. Or plant something in a family of a similar color that won’t cause trouble. Aoyagi suggests lupine, pink currant, or California lilac, all of which have the same charms and have lavender blooms.
This exotic plant, often used as a privacy screen or hedgerow, brings invasive bugs and disease as it travels to the United States. Bamboo varieties can spread as much as 5 feet in a year and can leap to neighboring properties and damage underground utilities, reports Jenkins-Sutton.
“It’s extremely difficult to kill, as it easily survives winter’s cold, and deer tend to avoid it,” he adds.
If you already have this willowy wanderer on your property, follow the recommended containment measures, urge the pros.
“Make sure bamboo is surrounded by a sturdy barrier, such as sheet metal, concrete or polyethylene that’s been sunk 3 feet into the ground and at least 2 inches above the soil’s surface,” explains Jenkins-Sutton.
Rats. Mortar damage. Tree death. Do you want to be responsible for these tragedies? Oh, and English ivy is boring to behold (Aoyagi prefers Silver Carpet). This invasive loves deep shade, spreads quickly and has no natural enemies.
“It establishes a monoculture, which means it dominates an area at the expense of all others, and left unchecked, will blanket forest floors, suffocate plant seedlings and smother trees,” laments Jenkins-Sutton.
It’s a nice looking hedge, we get it, but it can grow to 30 feet in height and forms an impenetrable thicket that can trap small mammals (poor bunny!). Aoyagi points out that it’s a single-plant hedge. Lacking biodiversity, it creates weakness and draws pests to the garden.
“Homeowners tend to mechanically shave it, rather than structurally prune it to a natural or desired shape, and this creates more vulnerability, along with noise and air pollution,” she notes.
Knotweed is hardcore.
“This plant can damage foundations, driveways, roads, invade and degrade streams, cause erosion, and collapse riverbanks,” says Jenkins-Sutton.
Think you can just pull it up by the roots and move on? Knotweed actually comes back from the dead, zombie-style, and it can regenerate—like a starfish that’s lost a limb.
“This plant requires proper disposal of its fragments over multiple years, because the pieces can remain dormant for up to two decades before sprouting again,” he notes.
Home gardeners love vinca. It’s excellent ground cover that can spread over large expanses with its periwinkle flowers, rooting wherever it touches the ground. As a result, it reduces the need to weed or apply mulch. But this pick, similar to English ivy, is an aggressive little vine.
“Vinca major (with the blueish flowers) is incredibly invasive in sheltered, forested areas, and it’s on noxious weed lists in some states,” reports Jenkins-Sutton.
Instead, plant dwarf periwinkle (vinca minor), its kinder, gentler cousin.
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