Many years ago when I first started dabbling in gardening for myself, I was always on the lookout for free plants and people were always willing to give away their extras once they knew I would take them. Talk about gullible!!! There’s a reason why people give plants away. Please learn from my mistakes (yes that’s plural, I wasn’t a fast learner) and don’t make space in your garden for these 14 Plants Not to Grow In Your Garden, even if they are free and even if you have lots of space to fill like I did.
How did these plants make my list? These are plants that I’ve had experience with or my gardening friends have had experience with. Some are invasive or aggressive spreaders and some just take up a lot of space when there are more attractive perennials that could be living in your garden instead.
Just a little disclaimer here. We have lots and lots of readers from gardening zones 3 through 10 here at Gingham Gardens. Pretty cool, right? What is considered invasive, aggressive or a vigorous spreader here in my zone 4b garden is not necessarily so in your gardening zone. See my advice at the end of the post for determining the plants you don’t want in your gardens.
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Let’s talk about a few definitions before we begin. Definitions for the terms invasive and aggressive are somewhat intertwined. For purposes of this post, invasive means: “tending to spread prolifically and undesirably or harmfully” taken straight from the Oxford Dictionary. Aggressive means: a plant that spreads faster than preferred, or into an area of your garden where it’s not wanted (paraphased from Chicago Botanic Garden website). DNR websites for states have their own definition of what invasive plants and aggressive plants mean.
Native purists will get upset when I refer to some natives as being invasive or aggressive. Again, plants grow differently in different soils and climates. I’m simply referring to my experience.
Plants Not to Plant in Your Garden – Invasive Perennials to Avoid
Snow-on-the-Mountain (aegopodium podagraria) – a/k/a Bishop’s Weed or Gout Weed – Hands Down this plant wins first prize of the Worst Plants to Grow In Your Yard! Ugh, I came to hate this stuff. I know hate is a pretty strong emotion when we’re talking about plants, but if you’ve ever tried to eradicate this “weed” from your garden, you know exactly what I mean. When someone offered me some, I thought, what a pretty ground cover with it’s variegated leaves. Ground cover indeed and it also covered everything in its path. Snow-on-the-Mountain is so invasive and it spreads by underground runners. I worked for probably 3 gardening seasons eradicating it from my shade garden. Do not let this beauty fool you.
Ostrich Ferns (matteuccia struthiopteris)- I know, I know Ostrich Ferns are gorgeous! But, I’m warning you they will take over wherever you put them.
Ostrich Fern is another plant that spreads by underground runners and definitely one of those plants not to grow in your garden. If you have a damp wooded area where nothing else will grow and you’re never going to want to plant anything else there, perhaps Ostrich Ferns would be okay. But, proceed with caution! For other shady areas where you would like ferns, try Maidenhair Fern or Japanese Painted Fern.Tansy (tanacetum vulgare) – is a perennial flowering herb that has a spicy kind of scent and is said to ward off mosquitoes. Long ago it was used for medicinal purposes.
It has a ferny type foliage that looks great all summer and the cutest little yellow button flowers. Don’t be deceived by my charming description. In addition to being invasive, the oils in tansy are highly toxic so be sure to wear gloves when handling it.
Years ago I just couldn’t resist when someone in our garden club was giving it away. It spread into the grass and it encroached on neighboring plants. What a mess and another pain to get rid of. Honestly though, I look at the picture below and think what a pretty plant, I want some. Fight that urge, you crazy woman!
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Ox-eye Daisies (chrysanthemum leucanthemum)- such a pretty little daisy that can easily be mistaken for shasta daisies (chrysanthemum x superbum).
Ox-eye daisies are weeds. Sorry, they’re not, they’re wildflowers that look pretty on roadsides and ditches right where they belong. They do not belong in a home garden flower bed, because they will take over. If someone offers you some cute little Ox-eye Daisies, simply say, “no thank-you.” Check your state’s DNR website, ox-eye daisies are considered invasive in many states.
Creeping Bellflower (campanula rapunculoides) – There are many, many varieties of campanula and lots of them are very well behaved. Creeping Bellflower is not one of them. It is like the thug of a flower garden.
I inherited some Creeping Bellflower with our current home and I cannot get rid of it. I even went so far as to dig up the entire small area where it was growing and by the end of summer it was back. They have this evil long tap root that breaks off with a sneeze. I’m stubborn though, so I’ll keep at it. There are other varieties of campanula that are quite aggressive too, so just be careful and do your research before you purchase campanula.
Ribbon Grass (phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’) – Oh, how I loved this variegated grass when I first saw it in my friend’s garden. She told me it was naughty, but I had to have it anyway. I really had to work to keep it contained.
See how well behaved it looks in the picture below. Sorry, its an illusion! When we moved to our current home, there was tons of ribbon grass and I set out right away to get rid of every last blade of it.
Best Gardening Tools for Cleaning Out Unwanted Plants:
Perennials Not to Grow in Your Garden – Plants That Are Aggressive
These perennials are not necessarily invasive, but they are definitely aggressive, and most gardeners would be better off not bothering with them.
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) – The flowers on Lily-of-the-Valley are so sweet and their fragrance is heady. I love to pick bouquets of them and bring them in the house. That being said, if they weren’t already in my gardens from the previous owners, I would not add them. They bloom for such a short time, that I don’t think they are worth their trouble. They are naughty spreaders and do not stay where you put them despite efforts to contain them. Don’t be swayed by this picture or their fragrance – stay strong!
Common Orange Ditch Lilies (hemerocallis vulva) – I think these are my least favorite flower. Now, wait a minute, I don’t want to offend anyone, because I know probably many of my readers have these in their gardens. I’ve been on many garden tours and seen many of these, even in master gardener’s yards. I really don’t get it. They are prolific spreaders and they are the devil to get out of your gardens. These probably belong in the invasive section, because they crowd out other plants.
Plus, ditch lilies take up so much space and there are so many other beautiful, cultivar and hybrid daylilies that you could use in place of ditch lilies. In my first garden makeover at our current home, I dug dozens of ditch lilies out of most all the flower beds that I made over. They are fine along roadsides in ditches, just not in a residential setting. Just my opinion, but I’m curious if you share it?
Crocosmia (montbretia) – Ugh, definitely not a favorite of mine. When we moved into our current home, there were Crocosmia plants everywhere! I dug so much of this stuff out and I’m still dealing with it popping up two years later. I think this is another plant that just takes up so much space and doesn’t bloom long enough to be worth the effort of trying to clean up after it. The blooms are interesting, but mostly just meh. Again, there are so many other perennials that are prettier and bloom longer.
I do have to say my sister grows the red Lucifer variety of Crocosmia in her Colorado Zone 5 garden and it is gorgeous. And, it’s a hummingbird magnet. That still doesn’t sway me. I’ve have lots of other plants that the hummers love.
Anemone (anemone sylvestris) – Again there are many different varieties of Anemone, some of them well mannered, but this particular spring blooming Anemone Sylvestris, not so much. These pretty little white wind flowers spread like wildfire. I would not add this variety to my gardens again.
Obedient Plant – It’s called “obedient” because you can bend the stems to face the direction you want them to face. When I first saw this plant in a catalog, I fell in love, it’s so pretty. Holy cow, I quickly fell out of love. This was not the plant for my tidy flower garden. It spread by underground rhizomes and was anything but obedient. It even spread to the neighbor’s yard.
If you can’t resist obedient plant, look for the Miss Manners series. They are not supposed to be spreaders. I purchased one last year and so far it’s just a nice clump. I’ll keep you posted on its behavior.
Royal Standard Hosta – First of all, I’m not bashing all hostas, I have many beautiful varieties of hosta in my gardens. I’ll bet you didn’t expect this one on the list and I know I’ll take some heat for including it. New gardeners are so excited to get free plants that they don’t stop to think about how these freebies are going to look in their gardens in 2 or 3 years. In my opinion, royal standard hostas (the very common plain green hostas) just aren’t all that pretty. And, they are definitely the most prolific hosta out there. Afterall, that’s why they are free. Plus, slugs are so happy when you add royal standard hostas to your garden. And, just so you don’t think I’m being unfair, I actually have more of these than I care to count in my current shade garden. And, they will be at the curb this spring with a free sign on them. Lol!
Lambs Ear (stachys byzantina) – Lots of gardeners have Lambs Ear because it spreads like crazy and gardeners just keep giving it away. The foliage on Lamb’s Ear is pretty and it adds a cool texture element to a flower bed. That being said, once it starts flowering, it gets sort of ratty looking, and the flowers are not all that attractive and it just takes up too much real estate in the flower garden. Lambs Ear is a known bee magnet which is good, but there are tons of other prettier flowers that are bee magnets too.
Blue Lobelia (lobelia siphilitica) – Not to be confused with the annual lobelia variety or the red perennial Cardinal Flower (lobelia cardinalis). Blue Lobelia is a native wildflower that is very pretty when it is blooming, but it spreads by seed like crazy. This is one flower that I think needs to stay in a wild prairie or meadow setting and not in home gardens. Just my opinion.
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How to Avoid Getting Invasive Perennials
I love going to other gardener’s plant sales, but unfortunately that’s where I’ve gotten a lot my worst offenders on the Plants Not To Grow In Your Garden list. Most of the plants that made my list are also readily available at local gardening centers too. So how on earth is a novice gardener, or even a seasoned gardener like me, supposed to avoid ending up with perennials that will take over your garden. My best advice is just to read up and ask questions. Now, if I see a plant that I don’t have and I’m curious about, I will ask the gardener these questions:
- Is this plant a vigorous spreader or aggressive? If so, is it easy to weed out?
- Does this plant spread by underground runners?
- Is this plant invasive?
If there isn’t anyone available to assist, I will pull out my cellphone and google the plant name and quickly read up on it.
Other Tips for Avoiding Plants Not to Grow In Your Gardens
Another good rule of thumb to follow, if a plant’s description references “wildflower,” or has “weed” in the name, just beware. Also watch for the words: “vigorous spreader” or “aggressive.” Do your research and ask lots of questions.
Even if you’re okay with having vigorous spreaders in your gardens, just know they can easily take over an entire flower bed and smother out other less vigorous flowers. Please though, if you are not planning on staying in your current home forever, don’t plant any of these plants. I happen to be one of the unlucky ones that lots of these naughty plants came with the house we purchased.
Just because one variety of a certain perennial is considered invasive or a vigorous spreader, doesn’t mean all varieties or species are invasive or overly vigorous spreaders.
It’s interesting to see what’s considered invasive or aggressive in different areas of the country or different gardening zones. I recommend doing your homework up front and planning what plants you want to purchase for your gardens. Google invasive plants in your state and see what comes up and make sure you don’t include those. Also, be sure to read the comments section to see what other plants readers have listed as plants not to grow in your garden.
There are several perennials that others would call invasive or aggressive, but I did not include them on my list because I don’t have a problem with weeding them out and I like them enough that they are worth the trouble. These plants include: bee balm, lamium, ajuga, cherry bell campanula (and a few other varieties) and agastache. Also, read through the comments below and you’ll hear about reader’s experiences.
Have you ever planted a perennial that you regret planting, or any on my list of plants not to grow in your garden? Please leave a comment and let me know (the easy to use form is at the bottom of the page). Also feel free to leave a comment if you have a gardening question. I would love to be able to help you.
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