Advice About Invasive Plants

Did you know that you may have invasive plants in your garden? There are quite a few here in New England. They are dangerous because they spread into natural areas and push out the diverse native plants that were originally there. This disturbs the balance of nature and endangers the habitat of many living creatures. I had a few in my yard and it was a hard but important decision to have them removed.

The privet hedge (Ligustrum obtusifolium) is one example. We had a hedge along the border of our property next to our driveway. I had lived with it for 25 years. After it was removed I knew I had made the right decision. It was so boring and uninteresting. Now I’m converting that area into a mixed perennial garden with ferns and bulbs. We finally have a place to shovel the snow off of our driveway too!

A number of years ago I removed all of the barberry (Berberis thunbergii) plants in my yard. They may be pretty but I don’t know of a nastier plant to prune. This plant is spreading all over our natural areas. There are several wonderful native alternatives for your garden including bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and common winterberry (Ilex verticillata).

We had a giant winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), also known as a “burning bush” in our back-yard. It was an arduous chore to prune it. I’ve learned over the years that this is an especially invasive plant that is spreading into the understory of woodland areas, crowding out native plants. This year I took the last burning bush out. I will replace it with a lovely native berrying shrub. The bayberry, highbush blueberry, chokeberry, American cranberry bush, the fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) and the sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia) are good replacements.

Norway maples (Acer platanoides) were once planted as street trees in Newton. No one realized that they would be moving into our gardens and parks but they are everywhere now. They create dense shade and their roots are close to the surface, making it difficult to grow other plants below them. We had our three Norway maples removed and I’m looking forward to replanting the hillside in front of our house with more appropriate plants. If you need to replace a Norway maple but you would still like to have a large scale shade tree, you could plant a red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) instead.

Thank goodness I had no Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). You may have seen it engulfing forest trees. When snow and ice accumulate on these vines, the trees are often damaged or pulled down by the weight.

If you remove your invasive plants you will need to replant the area with more respectable plants. I would suggest planting native New England plants. They were meant to be here and they will help re-establish the diversity that is important for wildlife habitats.

It’s especially important that invasive plants are not added to a garden that borders a natural area. These thugs will move right in. If you are hiring a landscaper to put plants on your property make sure that none of the plants are considered invasive here in New England.

If you would like a more complete list of invasive plants go to the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England.

Beth Schroeder

More resources:

December 2009 newsletter

Spring 2009 invasive removal work

2010 invasive pulls are a success

Let’s Start In Our Own Back Yards

Printable brochure by Agnes Olshansky