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In the Garden: Aggressive plants test patience

Gooseneck loosestrife looks appealing when blooming but it grows very aggressively. (SUSAN MULVIHILL/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gooseneck loosestrife looks appealing when blooming but it grows very aggressively. (SUSAN MULVIHILL/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It seems ironic that we gardeners are in a constant battle with plants that grow too prolifically in our gardens while babying others that apparently would rather grow anywhere else. The more I think about this, the more I wonder if it’s possible we’ve been looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps we should embrace those exuberant plants that are trying to take over our gardens.

Unfortunately, I’m having a difficult time doing that. After multiple weeding and tidying sessions in my flower beds this season, I’ve compiled a list of the top five plants that are sorely trying my patience.

The first is phlox David. With his extreme cold hardiness and white blossoms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, how could I not love him? Well, I do love him, but only in reasonable quantities. No matter how hard I try to rein him in, David does not appear to be getting the message that I want him to stay where he was planted.

Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) is at its most endearing when blooming. Since each flower spike looks like a goose head and neck, a cluster of them gives the appearance of a gaggle of geese. Because of this, I’m frequently asked what the plants are by visitors to my garden as it’s a charming sight. The plants are only in bloom for so long, though. I’m certain it spends the rest of its days spreading its rhizomes (fleshy roots) as far as they can reach. The Missouri Botanical Garden warns gardeners that these plants “can be very aggressive in ideal growing conditions.” Wow, who knew I could dial in exactly what a plant was looking for? I should be proud of myself, but when I see massive groups of them, my blood pressure rises.

While plant centers tout snowdrop anemones (A. sylvestris) for their cheerful white flowers and ease of care, these guys quickly spread through underground stems. It doesn’t matter how many I unceremoniously yank out of the ground, they always cheerfully reappear. Even when I take extra care to seek out their root systems within the soil, they are only too happy to pop back up again while seeming to say, “nice try.”

Nothing looks prettier after a rainstorm than lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), when water droplets bead up on leaves that look like inside-out umbrellas. And their tiny, ethereal flowers add interest to flower beds. But if I don’t remove those blossoms before they set seed, I’ll end up with hundreds of tiny plants everywhere. Unfortunately, it took me a while to learn this trick – and then remember to do it – as I have an abundance of them in my flower beds and even in pathways.

The last plant on my hit list is spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum). On the positive side, it is a low-maintenance groundcover and has colorful leaves and showy flowers. The big negative is that it’s a member of the mint family. While it looks wonderful in containers, I should have known better than to turn it loose in my garden. Try as I might to eradicate the plants, they continue to pop up in the most unlikely places.

If you’re looking for plants to fill your flower beds, and don’t mind if they elbow their way into other areas, these plants are for you. But if you want low-maintenance plants that behave themselves, pass them by.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video youtube.com/c/susansinthe garden.


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