In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Bog sage can be a huge nuisance, but its sky blue blooms might make you forget its ultimate treachery.

What NOT to Plant

Recently, I stopped by a garden center for a bag of lime. When I arrived home, I did, indeed, have a bag of lime. I also had another carload of plants. I just can't seem to help myself. Even before I get out of the car I'm looking at what other shoppers have purchased and I'm taking note of what I might need too, or what I just can't resist.

Occasionally, however, I see plants being loaded into trunks and cargo spaces that make me cringe. It brings to mind a favorite television show, BBC's "What Not to Wear," when the two hostesses say, "Your friends won't tell you what NOT to wear. But we're not your friends, and we will!"

When I see less experienced gardeners making some of the same mistakes I have, choosing invasive or lackluster plants, or ones that are unsuited to our climate zone, I can almost hear myself saying, "Your friends won't tell you what not to plant, but I will!"

Of course, I could never actually make that admonishment. It would be presumptuous, as well as downright rude. So instead, I asked a number of skilled gardening friends about their worst plant choices, planning to share the comments with you. Their response has been overwhelming.

According to those in-the-know, mint (Mentha), any and all kinds, tops the list of garden thugs. In fact, one e-mail said, "Don't plant mint unless you plan to harvest it for sale." Despite the seasonal popularity of mint tea and mint juleps, I can't imagine there's much market for this flavorful but relentless herb, so perhaps it would be best to keep it out of garden beds all together.

Ditto to these other plants mentioned time and time again: dwarf periwinkle (Vinca minor), English ivy (Hedera helix), gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyriferus), plume poppy (Macleaya), porcelain berry vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), and nearly every species of bamboo.

What has been my own biggest mistake? It was the gooseneck loosestrife, a vigorous perennial that lures unsuspecting gardeners in summer with its lovely crook-neck, white flower spikes. This plant is especially dangerous because it tolerates a wide range of conditions (sun and shade, as well as wet and dry), and because like many other invasive plants, it spreads by stolons (commonly called "runners") that grow at or below the soil surface.

It's important to know how plants spread. Those that clump or proliferate by self-seeding might be troublesome, but not terribly difficult to remove. Plants that spread by runners, especially those that grow underground, are stealthy invaders that can overwhelm a landscape in just a few years.

If you can't imagine gardening without a particular stoloniferous plant and you like to live a bit dangerously, sink an 18-inch tall stove pipe into the soil and grow the plant within the limits of the pipe's rim. Other types of solid pipe that can extend well below the plant's root zone, such as concrete or PVC, will also work. Leave a few inches of container above the soil level to keep stray runners in check and then guard vigilantly against escapees.

In many cases, the decision to grow a getaway plant is really a question of whether the pleasure outweighs the pain. For example, bog sage (Salvia uliginosa) can become a huge nuisance, but its sky blue blooms will make you forget its ultimate treachery. Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) and sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) may also make the cut, depending on your tolerance level.

So the next time you're selecting new plants for the garden, think twice about what NOT to plant. Just as the style mavens of "What Not to Wear" warn that all figures are not created equal, neither are all plants, and it's not a lesson you want to learn the hard way.


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