Friday, July 15, 2011

Invasives: Bad, Worse, Worst!

Chocolate Mint -
Appropriately Contained!
At some point in their gardening lives, every gardener will run into an invasive. These little buggers are the plants that go crazy in your yard, preferring to live there rather than anywhere else on the entire plant. They show their love by crowding out every other single plant within a 10-mile radius (or so it seems). Invasives are different from state to state, from county to county, and even from yard to yard! What explodes wildly in my garden does not necessarily do the same just across the fence. The USDA provides this searchable list of officially classified invasive and noxious plants by state.

You might be surprised to learn that Ox-Eye Daisy and Grapevines are both considered invasives here in Ohio. When an old homestead is abandoned, Grapevines will simply revert to their uncivilized ways and take over. Ox-Eye Daisy is aggressive and can quickly cover an entire field, which can be especially problematic for farmers.

Here in my garden, I have problems with neither. However, I have had the great misfortune of stumbling upon another little plant that – although not qualified as such – has become completely invasive to my yard. I first planted Houttuynia “Chameleon” (Korean Houttuynia) in a small bed in 2005.

Houttuynia Chameleon -
Do NOT Be Fooled
By Its Pretty Face!
That first year, the bed consisted of Coral Bells, the aforementioned Chameleon, and Bee Balm. It was really quite lovely! As the summer progressed, the Chameleon filled in between the Coral Bells, and the Bee Balm bloomed grandly at the back. And to be completely fair, Chameleon is really a very beautiful plant (see photo). In fact, that fall when the Chameleon appeared to completely die back, I was a little disappointed to see it go.

The next spring, it seemed to slowly revive itself. It was late to come up, and so I had no inkling of the havoc it would soon play. As the summer progressed, so too, did the ravenous Chameleon, gobbling up my yard at an astonishing rate. The Coral Bells were the first to succumb. They dropped down beneath the ever encompassing Chameleon and were never heard from again. The Bee Balm put up a much greater fight. (Two stalks even survived to bloom this year!)

By the summer of 2008, it was all-out war. I had to dig out the entire bed, down at last 20 inches. I tilled, I sifted, and all to no avail! As a last and final resort, I had to tarp the entire bed, and cover it with a layer of mulch. And you know what? Last year, the Chameleon actually began to poke its head out from under its cover. This year, a tiny patch has established itself in an unprotected corner of the old bed!

A Mexican Mint Escapee!
What am I to do? I surrender. Luckily, the area adjacent to the new Chameleon bed can be mowed, so at least it will be kept at bay. But I have learned a valuable lesson – be careful who you bring home from the Garden Center!

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