Sunday, March 11, 2012

Invasion of the weedy plants!

When most gardeners hear the word “invasive” in relation to plants, most likely they would think of common weeds in their own garden. But in many cases, an ornamental plant can be invasive with no signs of taking over in the immediate area. For example, Nandina (also known as Heavenly Bamboo) and Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) feature bright red berries in the fall. These berries are eaten by birds, then “deposited” in natural settings wherever the birds travel. Those seeds germinate and become new plants. The shade from those new Nandinas and Burning Bush plants then makes it difficult for neighboring native plants to survive, plants that were  used to full sun conditions. The loss of native plants is never a good thing…that’s less food sources for wildlife. Over time, it has implications for the food chain and the health of entire ecosystems.

This issue of invasive, non-native plants is just now starting to garner some attention from gardeners and others throughout the horticultural industry. Many state agriculture departments have lists of invasive plants (such as this one, for Virginia) but they are, for the most part, voluntary. Nurseries and garden centers, as far as I’m aware, have discretion as to whether they want to sell some of these plants or not. As a landscaper, I try to steer my clients away from these non-native invasives, and towards the many wonderful native plants that can be just as showy and beautiful as the ones that have been introduced from China, England, Japan, and other parts of the world. [Click here to read a great article on the benefits of using native plants]

It’s hard to fault nurseries for wanting to sell long-time favorites like Burning Bush and Nandina…they’re tough and durable, standing up to heat and drought exceptionally well, and put on quite a show in the fall with a wide range of reds and maroons. But my hope is that as more and more gardeners become educated and interested in native plants and their benefit to not just their own gardens but to the whole ecosystem, the trend will continue at the retail and wholesale levels as well.

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