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Invasive Plant Alternatives #1: Evergreen Shrubs

Many popular landscape plants seem harmless, but they are actually invasive plants which move quickly into the surrounding areas to crowd out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.

Most of these popular invasive species have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior.

Privet, or Ligustrum, is a highly invasive species found growing all over the South. Once it moves into an area, privet is very difficult to eradicate. It seems this problem will never go away, since to my surprise it is still sold in big box garden centers and planted in enormous proportions by landscapers and home owners everywhere. It can be found in almost every landscape. Once one person plants it, it will eventually be all over the neighborhood, since birds eat the small dark berries (see photo shown below) and drop seeds anywhere they deposit their droppings.
Privet Berries are eaten by birds, therefore privet seeds
are deposited in bird droppings all over the neighborhood.
In my opinion, privet is not even pretty, and I don’t know why people plant it, unless it’s because it’s evergreen. Our property is surrounded by thickets full of privet which, since it is not our land, we can do nothing to eliminate. And believe me, when it blooms, it really wreaks havoc on my sinuses and I keep a migraine until the blooms fade, because I cannot escape the strong fragrance permeating our entire garden.

There are certainly many superior alternatives to this pest. I could go on and on with a list, but any fine, textured evergreen would be better than privet. Here are just a few suggestions, all evergreen, some of which also have beautiful flowers or bright berries for the birds to eat:

  • Boxwood is much slower-growing, making it far superior to privet, since privet must be pruned every few weeks to keep it tidy. Boxwood is also available in dwarf sizes and variegated forms, making it absolutely unnecessary to ever plant any variety of privet.
  • Hollies are excellent in any garden. Dark green glossy leaves in a variety of textures with beautiful berries in shades of yellow, orange, or red provide plenty of interest. Dwarf yaupon holly is a native holly with small leaves giving a fine-textured appearance similar to privet, but without the maintenance.  When choosing holly for the garden, the possibilities are endless. 
  • Yew is a lovely evergreen plant that is available in a variety of forms: upright, conical, or spreading. (Also, deer will not eat it--Yay!)
  • Viburnum is available in small-leaved evergreen varieties such as Davidii, Compactum, or Sandankwa as well as some deciduous species with bright fall foliage color. Many varieties have hydrangea-type bloom clusters and some put on a bright display of beautiful berries in the Fall. 
  • Itea, Virginia Sweetspire, is a lovely shrub available in large or dwarf-growing sizes. Sweetspire has fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring and one of the showest fall color displays of any shrub, native or not!
Non invasive Native Shrub with Fragrant Spring Blooms and Vibrant Fall Color
Itea virginica Henry's Garnet
Shady Gardens Nursery
I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and plant shrubs that are not invasive instead of invasive exotics. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.