Problem plants

In my garden, there are four or five real problem plants. I have other interlopers, but the following natives and non-natives are really bad actors in my leaf-mold enriched soil. Note: most natives can be kept in check if you don’t water much and have lean, sandy soil. My garden’s natural soil is red sand with large pockets of clay. Over the years, I’ve enriched it with Back to Nature cotton burr compost, my own homemade compost and shredded leaves along with various wood bark mulches. My current favorite is shredded pine bark, but it can sometimes be hard to find.

Our first problem child, ‘er plant, is Verbesina alternifolia, commonly known as wingstem and yellow ironweed. When it blooms in summer, it is beautiful, and pollinators adore it. I do not. This native absolutely loves my garden and all of its resident plants…to death. I’ve ripped and pulled and done everything to get rid of it. Yet, this year, especially, with all of the rain we’ve had, it is trying to take over the lower left bed near my Japanese maple. I will be out there again today trying to convince it to live elsewhere. Why is it such a problem? It has rhizomatous (underground) stems that spread like those of mint. It also spreads by seed. It’s become an utter nuisance in my garden. It’s also a native plant that is great where it has room to spread. My garden is not that place.

Early garden mistakes often linger. Autumn clematis, oh autumn clematis, why ever did I plant you? I remember my friend, Katie, looking at the feverish growth of its first year and remarking it might be a future problem. I should have listened. It is a huge problem plant in the garden popping up everywhere. I get it killed in one spot, turn around, and there’s a stem taking off in another. I hate this plant even though wasps adore it. It also smells good in late summer and is a fall bloomer.

Brennan has been replacing split-rail fence around the back garden. Volunteer autumn clematis grows on a portion needing attention. He asked me if he could kill it. I laughed, and said, “Go ahead and try.”

Another early garden mistake I made was planting garlic chives. I bought them at a small herb show and plunked them into the soil. Well, I am now constantly digging them out. You may think my garden looks good, but I spy with my little eye problem plants galore.

Trust me, even mint, the planting mistake of so many young gardeners is nothing compared to garlic chives. Their roots are six inches deep at least. They bury these tenacious roots into the pockets of clay which hold them like cement. It’s almost awe-inspiring.

Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle, a terribly invasive vine. I beg you. Don't plant this problem plant
Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle, a terribly invasive vine. I beg you. Don’t plant this.

Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. No, I did not plant this beastly plant. Bill loved his mother’s lovely smelling honeysuckle and planted a small sprig before he and I married. We’ve been married 28 years this May 12, and I am still trying to eradicate it. I’ve done nearly everything you can do to it including burning. Yes, burning. No, it’s still alive. I ripped out a ton of it this morning in fact. Not even brush killer will completely eradicate it. It only sets it back a season or so.

I really think it's Drummond's aster that is my aster problem. This photo is from 2010, but it spread everywhere.
I really think it’s Drummond’s aster that is my aster problem. This photo is from 2010, but it spread everywhere.

Drummond’s aster, Symphyotrichum drummondii. I bought a small plant many years ago, and today, yet again, I was pulling out pieces of it along with its rhizomatous roots. My problem is that this part of the garden is not dry and xeric. In fact, the soil is somewhat clay-like.. One day, when I am old and too tired, this aster will win the fight, but today is not that day my friends.

Mountain mint and our house.
Mountain mint and our house.

Mountain mint. I’m never sure which variety, but I call it common mountain mint. The first clue is the word mint. It and Drummond’s aster duke it out in a corner of the garden, and the battle goes back and forth all season with neither side winning. When I turn my back, they establish détente and begin marching together across the rest of the garden. Only my determination stops full garden domination.

These are my problem plants. Oh, I have more like obedient plant and Johnson grass, but I’ve mostly eradicated them. What are the plants in your garden that give you the most trouble?




  1. Nicole says:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned mulberry. When we first moved to our current house, there were 2 mulberry trees. I found them charming at first until I realized the mulberries weren’t really all that tasty and that they made an awful mess. City cut down the trees because they were touching electric wires, but somehow I have mulberry “weeds” absolutely everywhere. They’re impossible to dig out and all I can really do is cut them as low to the ground as possible. Fortunately they don’t get into my gardens, but they grow all around my house right up against the walls. Such a nuisance!

  2. bittster says:

    I guess I should rip out the mountain mint. Sounds like it’s just biding its time until I get distracted somewhere else. I just try to ignore the asters….
    15 years ago the neighbor ripped out their autumn clematis and I’m still fighting it today. I don’t even think I’ve killed half of the ones I want to get rid of, I just try to keep them from flowering and keep on making a weak attempt at pulling them out each year. Maybe someday.

  3. Right now, I’m trying to figure out why I thought I could handle lemon balm in my garden. I know it’s in the mint family, and it is popping up everywhere. I decided to remove it from the actual herb garden bed, thinking I had neglected to rein it in. Nope. I had planted it right in the full pot, and it still spread everywhere. I discarded it, but it’s babies are showing up everywhere.

  4. I LOL’d and shared with my BFF in Texas. She agreed! I had MANY “aggressive” plants back then… Mexican Hats, Mexican Mint Marigold, Mexican Petunia’s…(See a theme here? We used to joke that they were INVADING our country!). The Blue Mist flower was a happy creeper, and Tickseed coreopsis would multiply overnight. Hubby has never let me plant mint in the ground, so I keep a large pot and it works, but I have seen that it can get out of hand! I’ve always wanted Autumn Clematis, but my BFF also warned me NEVER DO IT!!! It’s amazing how we learn the hard way, sometimes! Thanks for sharing!

  5. So interesting that we all have “challenging” plants. I can’t think of any that I planted myself, but this was an established garden when we moved in. I’m trying to reduce the Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)–it’s pretty invasive. Also, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) would entirely take over the woodland if we didn’t pull it. So, my challenges are mainly pulling out invasives and replacing them with natives or noninvasive plants. It’s always something, right? But that’s what keeps gardening an interesting hobby. 😉

  6. Jennie Brooks says:

    Drummonds Aster. i have a very wet place right off my back patio. The mint was there when i moved in. yes, still batting it. BUT i planted the aster and you know it’s damn near taken over and just might replace the mint. i’m not saying that’s a good thing. i just don’t have the time to deal with it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This gives me comfort in a weird way to know I’m not alone! I have many of the plants you mentioned, plus others that came up volunteer and I let grow! Native beautyberry comes up as seedlings like crab grass, since I don’t use a preemergent it’s annoying. Many of the plants I bought at your favorite nursery have an invasive trait in my beds, too. Rice paper plant was spreading nicely in a shady area, but once I tried to stop it’s advance….it said No! I’m taking over. I haven’t resorted to glyphosphate, yet!

  8. Sally says:

    Wow! Many of your problem plants are in my garden but are, so far, pretty tame. I,too am battling a chive I planted. Silver King Artemesia gave me a run for my money, as well as Sneezewort and Bee Balm.

  9. Ahhhh, my biggest nemesis is Dutchman’s Pipe vine which is a great screening vine but it sends out runners into the perennial border and up to twenty five feet away from the mother plant. It does have an interesting flower and it does provide screening and it invites the birds to nest in it. I will attempt to keep it in check but someday it will cover the house.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I had to chuckle at cover the house.

  10. Peggy Zortman says:

    Loved reading this and every comment! I am starting from scratch a new border on my husband’s family farm. But first to get rid of the chives, which are in the orchard, around the house, and everywhere! And then there is the nasty vinca! Last, but surely not least, is the English ivy climbing the side of the house. I have mowed it to keep it in check until I finish ripping it off the house which is a slow go as I’m trying not to ruin the siding. I drool over photos of autumn clematis, but am now having second thoughts. Very interesting read. Thank you.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’ve heard regular chives can be a real problem in some places. I think that shows how much different climates, soil, etc. make on whether something is aggressive or invasive. Here, chives are well behaved while garlic chives are their aggressive older brother. 😀

  11. When I was trying to get my garden started, I was looking for key words like spreads quickly. Boy did I learn my lesson! Now I run from that phrase.
    I fight sunflowers of all things. They have taken over my garden the point that when the cows see me in the flower bed, they stand next to the fence begging me to throw them the seedlings I’m pulling up (which I gladly comply)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      There are sunflowers everywhere here too. I’m just glad they are easy to pull up when small. Now, that yellow ironweed. It holds onto the soil like iron. I had to laugh at “key words like spreads quickly.” Ah, yes.

  12. My garlic chives died. The regular chives does seed all over. I like the taste of garlic chives better.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Climate, climate, climate. I’ll give you armloads of garlic chives if you ever come visit Kathy.

  13. Oh mercy.This post did stir up the hate in me… I too am fighting the Autumn Clematis. Lemon Balm sprouts everywhere. Stilt grass is a sneak. I knew better and have some mints in the garden. They pop up when I think they have been eradicated. Akebia vine is a tart. Can’t get rid of that. Japanese Knotweed is the devil. The Jeruselam Artichokes are impossible to eradicate. You can’t eat them fast enough believe me. DON’T plant them.
    You were right about the size issue and my being able to post my comment. Thanks.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I’m so glad you got to comment! I hate autumn clematis with a special kind of hate. I hate lemon balm too and the native ageratum that comes up everywhere. At least I can pull it. I don’t know stilt grass and don’t want to. I will take your warning about Jerusalem artichokes and only have them occasionally in restaurants.

  14. Mary says:

    All of the above LOL

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Now, that made me laugh!

  15. Jenny Harris says:

    Oh it does sound like your problem plants are tough problems! Yikes! My nemesis here in Baltimore is a huge swath of wild onions. I mean, like, 100’x10′ along our front and side yard property line. I’m convinced that the birds flitting about in the shrubs along the property are the culprit – at least originally. Now, beginning in early February, the first sign of spring is the shoots of the onion leaves popping up, forming a thick carpet. Then the flowers in early April. They’re pretty enough – yes, they are, really – but they have totally choked out all grass in our front lawn. the northern 10′ wide strip of our lawn is just wild onion greens, which are then followed by clover. No grass. Ugh!

    The other problem we have around here is wild grape and honeysuckle on our south hill. It used to be much worse than it is now, we’ve been whacking at it for a couple years since we moved into this house. But it will NEVER be fully eradicated due to the 6″ diameter grapevine stumps that are spread throughout our hillside. Shoots and runners all day, every day.


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Jenny, I keep thinking there has to be some rhyme or reason for having to battle so many plants, but I come up empty and keep working. Hand in there. I hope you get the wild onions under control.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I think my garden is too young for me to experience such problems. I do have lots of self seeded rocket leaves in my vegetable patch, but I have learnt to love it and I make lots of pesto.
    Vinca appears to show up everywhere and I guess this is the only plant that is overpowering and it’s hard to keep it away from my garden.
    From your post and from the comments I have learnt of what plants not to plant if I want to have a control over my garden. Good luck with dealing with them.

  17. Kate says:

    I have been trying to eradicate Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium) for 6 years now. I think I’ve succeeded, only to find a new sprout somewhere. I was successful in removing all the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia), but it took the uprooting of an entire bed to dig out the masses of intertwined roots, and then constant vigilance. Mint is almost gone. English Ivy nearly gone. Now working on Scilla siberica which is a nice enough plant but actually chokes out the perennials struggling to come out of dormancy. Fortunately I’m far enough north that autumn clematis doesn’t set much seed, so I can enjoy its beauty and aroma on the deck fence.

  18. Debbie Fish says:

    I have eradicated honey suckle, and almost finished out the garlic chives. Sweet Autumn clematis is wearing on me, but the worst of all is ruellia. Lord, will I EVER outlive the ruellia. The medium pink is reasonable, but that tall purple is one tenacious B. Good luck!

  19. gardenannie says:

    I agree on your comment about garlic chives. I only have one “little” plant in my herb garden. I have, however, thrown the seed down in the bar ditch (is that an Oklahoma word) along our road. At least the deer don’t eat them and when maintenance mows, it smells all garlicky.

  20. Carol says:

    My problem plants include perennial sweet pea, Lathryus latifolius. I planted it because I remember it growing at my grandparents house. What I neglected to take note of was how it was growing in huge patches everywhere. It seeds everywhere, grows up and throw everything if you let it. I am constantly pulling it out of my perennial border. Constantly. Oh, and my New England Asters like to show up all over the garden, but they are easy to pull as seedlings. Then there are ox-eye daisies, false sunflower, and vinca.

    1. Gypsy Hogan says:

      Chameleon Plant ‘Chameleon’
      Houttuynia cordata – A co-worker gave it to me. To this day, I’m pretty sure she didn’t like me and was being subversive. I can’t imagine ever doing that to someone. Avoid, avoid, avoid! I’m thinking about just paving over the area.

      1. Dee Nash says:

        Gypsy, it does make you wonder doesn’t it? Subversive gardeners?

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