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Invasive Plant Alternatives #3: Shrubs with Colorful Fall Foliage

As written in my previous posts, many popular landscape plants seem harmless, yet they are actually invasive plants that 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.

In this third installment of my 3 part series on Invasive Plant Alternatives, I intend to share with you my suggestions for a fall color garden using some lesser known native plants instead of invasive shrubs and trees.

Most of the invasive species sold and planted have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior!

Chinese Tallow Tree, or sometimes called the Popcorn Tree, (see photo above) is prized for its fall color, but is one of the worst invaders into our forests because of the rapidly dispersed seed. Although Chinese Tallow is a lovely tree, consider these alternatives which are much better for the Southern garden:


Fothergilla – a native American tree/small shrub that is beautiful in all seasons. Showy and sweetly scented, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and excellent fall foliage in shades of orange, red, and burgundy.

Sassafras – a native small tree with beautiful fall color and large unusually-shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.


Serviceberry – another native tree noted for its spring flowers and fall color with the addition of beautiful berries which are food for the birds.


Viburnum – there are many varieties, both native and non-native, that are lovely. All Viburnums have beautiful, showy blooms and many also develop berries in shades of white, blue, pink, and red that provide wildlife food. Some viburnums are evergreen, and deciduous varieties develop beautiful fall foliage. Viburnum is never invasive!


And finally, Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because after showing off in early summer with fragrant blooms that look and smell like Lily of the Vally, Sourwood develops beautiful maroon foliage that brightens up the Fall garden.


I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and instead of invasive exotic shrubs and trees, incorporate some of these beautiful natives into your landscape. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

Invasive Plant Alternatives #2: Climbers

As written in my previous post, many popular landscape plants seem harmless, yet they are actually invasive plants that 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.


These popular invasive vines have a native alternative that is far superior in both beauty and behavior.



In this second installment of my 3 part series on Invasive Plant Alternatives, I intend to share some information about popular climbing vines and some alternatives to use instead of the invasive varieties.

Japanese Honeysuckle appeals to many gardeners due to its fast-growing habit and its sweetly scented blooms, but that aggressive nature and rapid growth are what has caused it to take over the South. Japanese Honeysuckle is one of the most common nuisance plants, yet it is still sold in garden centers everywhere!

I can think of quite a few good alternatives for this garden thug, but these are my favorites:
Lonicera Sempervirens
Shady Gardens Nursery
  • American Native Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, shown in the photo above, is one of the best hummingbird magnets I know of, with its large red tubular flowers that come almost year round in my garden. (There were a few blooms on mine even in January here in West Central Georgia!) If red is not your color, Lonicera sempervirens is available in a yellow blooming selection called John Clayton.
  • Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is an evergreen vine native to the Southeastern United States with bright yellow blooms in early Spring and sporadically throughout Spring into Fall.
  • Clematis is available in many varieties, both native and non-native species and a wide selection of colors. All are lovely--none are invasive.
  • Passionvine is another native perennial vine with very showy, large purple flowers and attractive, edible fruits. This vine will self-sow, but never crowds out its neighbors. Stems are delicate enough that this plant can be allowed to climb through shrubs and trees abundantly without worry of damage to the support plant.
  • American wisteria (Yes, I did say wisteria!!) is a native vine that is just as beautiful as the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, but is not invasive at all. The blooms are very fragrant. You might see it sold as Amethyst Falls wisteria, but don’t be afraid to plant it. Avoid Chinese and Japanese wisteria, because I can show you how it’s taking over much forestland in Alabama and Georgia, strangling and pulling down trees, much like kudzu.
If you have an arbor or trellis that could use some ornamentation, choose one of these climbing vines for your garden. You won't regret it.


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.


Wisteria: Romance for the Southern Garden

Wisteria Amethyst Falls
Shady Gardens Nursery
What could be more romantic than sitting with your true love beneath an arbor draped with sweetly scented lilac blooms swaying in the light Spring breeze?

Romantic and old-fashioned, wisteria vine is often seen in southern gardens climbing arbors, porch railings, and even trees.

Usually what we find is an imported and very aggressive plant from China or Japan. Beautiful and romantic, yes. Well-behaved and mild-mannered, no. 

Let me introduce you to a true Southern Beauty, the Southern Belle of climbing vines, Wisteria frutescens. This American Native Wisteria is a rare plant native to the Southeast, but she is seldom found growing in the wild. It is not the plant covering up trees along roadsides in Georgia and Alabama—that’s the Asian one. 

‘Amethyst Falls’ Wisteria is a cultivar of that rare American Native Wisteria. It is much less aggressive than the Asian counterpart, therefore making it a much wiser selection for your garden.

Blooms are 5 inch long clusters of lilac flowers appearing in late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. 

American Wisteria can eventually climb to 40 feet, but it is easy to control with pruning. This well-mannered Southern plant is lovely on a strong arbor or pergola, but it is easy to train as a tree-form standard.  An arbor of cedar posts or iron would make a lovely accent in the garden when covered with Amethyst Falls Wisteria.

Our native Wisteria can be grown anywhere in the Southern States, for it is hardy in USDA Zones 7 - 9. It should be sited in full sun or light shade. Morning sun with afternoon shade is ideal for gardens in the Deep South. Any well-drained soil will do. Regular water is needed only in the beginning when the plant is establishing to its new home. American Wisteria is very drought tolerant once established.

Every garden should have a lovely place to sit on a cool morning while planning out the days activities. Or perhaps you would prefer a spot to unwind in the evening after a long day's work. No matter what your gardening style, make your special place an arbor covered with the beautiful, romantic, yet mild-mannered native American Wisteria Amethyst Falls.


Freedom

As you celebrate Independence Day this 4th of July, remember this: 

Freedom is not free.

If you see a soldier or veteran today, remember to say Thank You.