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Publication: Garden Guides
Plants That Wander

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                        June 20, 2006

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Plants That Wander
By Kate Jerome

I spent a few hours the other day pulling mint out of a 
garden bed. I intentionally put it in that spot several 
years ago, thinking the driveway provided a boundary on one 
side, and there was a field on the other side where the mint 
could spread without me having to worry about it. 

Well, of course we changed our landscape, and now that area 
has new shrubs and a nicely mulched bed. So, I'm digging out 
the mint. This is the second time I've dug it out this year, 
and I know it won't be the last. At least it's quite pleasant 
work, with the sweet scent of spearmint wafting around me as 
I work.

Consider Invasive Tendencies
Plants that become invasive can be real problems in the 
garden, and my mint incident reminds me just how important 
it is to make good plant choices and good site choices. Many 
plants that become pests because of their invasive qualities 
are not native to our region, although there are certainly a 
few native plants that can escape cultivation and cause 
problems as well.

What exactly makes a plant invasive? Basically, a plant is 
considered invasive if it spreads prolifically by runners or 
seed and eventually begins to replace and dominate the 
existing plants. These plants can cause a change in local 
ecosystems in such a way as to harm the existing balance.

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Plants like my mint or the phlox that delivers its 
undesirable seedlings all over the perennial garden are not 
necessarily invasive but simply weedy. I keep these plants 
in check by periodically rooting them out. Weedy plants are 
nuisances to the gardener, but don't threaten the environ-
ment. 

Sometimes it can be hard to predict whether or not a 
particular plant species will become invasive in a new 
habitat. We've all heard of kudzu vines in the south, which 
were introduced into the country to stop soil erosion. The 
plants found happy homes, and are now literally bringing 
down southern forests.

As home gardeners, we have to rely on the plant breeders and 
scientists at horticultural institutions to do the research 
for us. However, we can do our part to keep these plants out 
of the landscape by only purchasing tried-and true-plants 
for our gardens. 

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It's our responsibility to be familiar with the plants that 
can become invasive because some invasive species are still 
sold in garden centers and nurseries. I certainly don't 
think anyone would intentionally plant garlic mustard or 
Canada thistle, but we do still find goutweed, euphorbia, 
dame's rocket, and purple loosestrife on the market for 
home gardens. 

Some others to keep your eyes open for and avoid purchasing 
are moneywort, Japanese knotweed, reed canary grass (an 
ornamental grass), porcelain berry, Japanese honeysuckle, 
and even Norway maple and Siberian elm. There are extensive 
lists available through county Extension offices, so if in 
doubt, check it out.

As for those weedy plants in the garden, keep roguing out 
the seedlings and snipping off the runners. And if you want 
to plant something that does tend to run, put it in a spot 
where it's bound by sidewalks and driveways to keep it from 
heading off where you don't want it. 

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