Steer clear of exotic invasives at garden centers

I know some of you may be wondering why I would imply that a garden center would sell a plant that may be on some of the “most wanted invasives” lists because they hurt native vegetation and tend to run rampant. However, if you’ve ever seen mimosa trees, you know they have pretty, feathery pink flowers, and many homeowners love them. Privet is often sold to create a hedge (and boy, does it ever), and many invasive flowers are fast-spreading and showy, two qualities that customers are looking for in a front-yard planting.

A year ago I was in a garden shop looking for plants that I could grow in my perennial garden bed. I work full-time and often have other things to do on the weekend, so I wanted plants that were easy to grow and wouldn’t require a lot of maintenance. I also tend to have a lot of weeds in the summer, so I wanted plants that would spread easily.

Those are exactly the qualities of all invasive plants, and many homeowners are looking for plants that they don’t have to baby every weekend. So nurseries supply them because the demand is there, and if someone’s yard doesn’t border a protected area or farm, the homeowner (and potentially the immediate neighbors) will be the only one affected by the plant’s dark side.

In addition, although some homeowners would prefer to plant native flowers, native plants often prove difficult to find or come at a premium price. So many people simply looking for a quick, showy way to dress up their front yard choose plants that will develop quickly and have a thick, colorful appeal that can be seen from the street.

There are many non-native species that make good alternatives for mimosas and privet. They have a showy flower and grow quickly, but they stay in one place and don’t spread seeds or suckers every year to increase their numbers. The Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council has an excellent list of non-native as well as native alternatives to some of the exotic invasive trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and perennials that you will find at garden centers. I have Knockout Rose® in my yard, for instance, and it produces lush red roses every year and does not wander from its location.

I have started a Pinterest board called “Plant This, Not That” that shows examples of some of these invasive plants as well as alternatives that you should consider planting. The page at the GEPPC was the source of the information.

If you do find yourself “blessing” your neighbors with seedlings or suckers every year, and the neighbors don’t appreciate it, move the plant to another part of the yard that does not border someone else’s property if you really want to keep the plant. I know my neighbors were truly grateful when I finally—after five years of cutting and spraying the trunk—killed the large mimosa in my front yard that was contaminating everyone else’s lawn with seedlings.

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