How You Can Stop Invasive Plant Growth

Invasive species have earned their name. Though, to an untrained eye, they are often indistinguishable from native wildlife, invasives are aggressive, unwelcome garden inhabitants. They spread quickly and relentlessly, choking out native growth and disrupting the habitats of local animals. In Virginia, invasive plants like Heaven Tree, Kudzu, Alligator Weed, and Japanese Honeysuckle run rampant. I have personally spent hours uprooting Heaven Trees in my own backyard, and it can be backbreaking work. However, a small labor like this seems insignificant when compared to the ecological and economic destruction that invasive species cause when left unchecked. As gardeners and landscape lovers, we have a responsibility to be on the look-out for invasive growth, and to always keep it under control.

Kudzu vines

Why Care About Invasive Growth?

You know that beautiful garden and lawn that you’ve spent hours nurturing, cultivating, and protecting? After an invasive species outbreak, all that hard work could very well be for nothing. Invasive species strangle and smother other species of plants, out-competing them to complete extinction. With no natural predators, invasive species can grow indefinitely, completely altering native ecosystems. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation says invasive species cause “substantial impacts on rare or vulnerable species or natural communities” and can “alter ecosystem processes” considerably (

Tree of Heaven invasive plant

What You Can Do to Stop Invasive Growth

When creating a landscaping plan, always research the plants you’re planning on including. Make a conscious effort to include native plants in your design. Remember, most invasive species can be replaced by native species. For instance, if you like Japanese Honeysuckle for its sweet, flowery aroma, consider going for sweetbay magnolia instead. It has similar characteristics, but it won’t smother your garden or disrupt the local ecosystem.

This helpful chart from might give you a few ideas:

Problem Plant Desirable Characteristics Great Alternatives
[Click on icon for Native Plant image]
Japanese Wisteria showy flowers, fragrance woodland phlox, Phlox divaricatus
sweet azalea, Rhododendron canescens
coast azalea, Rhododendron atlanticum
American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens
Japanese Honeysuckle fragrant flowers leatherflower, Clematis viorna
Carolina jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens
trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
English Ivy Drought Tolerant Evergreen plantain-leaved sedge, Carex plantaginea
marginal woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis
woodland aster, Eurybia divaricatus
alumroot, Heuchera villosa
creeping mint, Meehania cordata
Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbens
creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
Autumn Olive Drought Tolerant strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
wax-myrtle, Myrica cerifera
meadowsweet, Spiraea latifolia
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Barberry Cheap/Nice Fruit strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
shrubby St. Johnswort, Hypericum prolificum
winterberry, Ilex verticillata
deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Purple Loosestrife Long Bloom Season/Wet Tolerant swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia
purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
gayfeather, Liatris spicata
grass-leaved blazing star, Liatris pilosa
green-headed coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata
New York ironweed, Vernonia novaboracensis
Miscanthus species Strong Vertical and Fall/Winter Interest split-beard bluestem, Andropogon ternarius
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
sugarcane plumegrass, Saccharum giganteum
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans
Lesser Celandine Early Color spring beauty, Claytonia virginica
yellow ragwort, Senecio aureus
Other spring ephemerals, if nursery propagated
Asian Bittersweet Showy Fruits American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens
Virginia rose, Rosa virginiana
Porcelainberry Fast Grower/Colorful Fruits gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa
Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
swamp haw viburnum, Viburnum nudum
Shrubby honeysuckle Replant after removal spicebush, Lindera benzoin
highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum
Burning Bush Euonymus Fall Color fringed bluestar, Amsonia ciliata
Hubricht’s bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii
witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii
oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
fetterbush, Leucothoe racemosa
swamp haw, Viburnum dentatum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum nudum

Invasive species can also travel on shoes, landscaping tools, firewood, and gear used for hiking, camping, fishing etc. Seeds often “hitchhike” and spread this way. Remember to always clean your gear after every use and be mindful of what you might be tracking around. Accidently leaving Heaven Tree seeds in a national forest could spell disaster for hundreds of plants and animal species.

Never release exotic fish, reptiles, birds, or plants into the wild. You don’t necessarily know the effect this will have on the local ecosystems. Many of these exotic species do end up spreading rapidly and becoming invasive. Let pets be pets and wildlife be wildlife.

If you see invasive plant species popping up around your yard, do your part and pull them up. Pulling weeds may not be fun, but it’s a big help when it comes to fighting back against invasive growth. You may also consider volunteering for your local ecological conservation organization. There, you can learn more about invasive species and how to help solve the problem!

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