Many invasive plants were once considered desirable ornamentals that were intentionally introduced to our gardens and landscapes only to escape into our natural environments. Once established, invasive species easily outcompete native species which reduces the availability of food and shelter for native wildlife and hinders the functionality of natural systems. Gardeners can play a vital role in the introduction and the prevention of invasive plants by choosing to grow native plants in their yards.
This Garden Protector’s Activity provides an overview of native alternatives to common invasive garden plants along with a link to the Garden Protector’s Toolbox with a plethora of resources.
The Issue with Butterfly Bush:
Butterfly bushes may be beautiful but they can escape cultivation and invade natural areas, crowding out native plants. Despite its name, the butterfly bush supports pollinators at only one stage in their life cycle. Butterflies need host plants to lay eggs on and for their larvae to eat. There are no native caterpillars that eat butterfly bush leaves.
Instead of butterfly bush, plant native summersweet Clethra alnifolia, and blazing star Liatris spicata. These native plants will support pollinators and provide benefits to the natural ecosystem.
The Issue with Burning Bush:
Because its attractive fall color and eye-catching fruit are unique among shrubs, homeowners can be reluctant to remove burning bush from their yards. However, like other invasive shrubs, the burning bush can easily escape your yard and invade natural areas where it can outcompete native vegetation and alter habitats.
Instead of burning bush, plant native black chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, or highbush blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum, these native plants will not only produce fruit for wildlife but you can use their berries to make tasty jams.
The Issue with Japanese Barberry:
Japanese barberry forms dense thickets that limit native herbaceous and woody regeneration, leading to altered soil structure and function. The thickets of Japanese barberry also harbor increased black-legged tick populations and provide habitat for mice and chipmunks which can be a nuisance in your yard.
Instead of Japanese barberry, plant native winterberry holly Llex verticillata, or Virginia rose Rose virginiana. These native plants will provide colorful fall foliage, and the berries of winterberry are a valuable source of food in the winter for small mammals and birds.
The Issue with Bush Honeysuckle:
Bush honeysuckle species emerge earlier in the spring and linger longer in the fall which gives them a competitive advantage over native plant species. The berries of bush honeysuckles do not contain the amount of fat and nutrients present in native honeysuckle berries and cause negative impacts on bird migration.
Instead of bush honeysuckle, plant native serviceberry Amelanchier arborea, or American elderberry Sambucus canadensis. These native plants have medicinal benefits for people and support wildlife.
The Issue With Yellow Flag Iris:
If you have a pond or water near your property be sure to avoid growing yellow flag iris. This riparian flower forms dense rhizomes that expand quickly creating monotypic stands that can replace and crowd out valuable aquatic plants like cattails, and other native wetland/riparian plants. The root systems of yellow flag iris form a dense mat that compacts soil and inhibits seed germination of other plants. Large yellow iris populations may also reduce the habitat available to native fish and waterfowl, and can narrow waterways. All parts of the plant are toxic to livestock and other animals.
Instead of yellow flag iris, plant native blue flag iris Iris versicolor, or cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis. These native flowers are not only beautiful but they support pollinator wildlife. The unique shape of cardinal flowers attracts humming birds and the bright blue color of blue iris attracts pollinating bees.
Visit the Garden Protector’s Toolbox to learn of more simple actions you can take to protect your garden and to gain access to a plethora of resources that can help you prevent the spread and introduction of invasive species in your yard.
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