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Perennials to Avoid!

As a novice gardener, I love this time of year in  Western MA. There are so many beautiful plants blooming in every yard and garden that I pass on my daily walks. Peony, Iris and Lilac season are behind us, and soon we will find ourselves in the dog days of summer, where we tend to see less of an array of colorful perennials blooming (but this can be helped by planting annuals!)

When we moved to our new-ish house in Florence MA, we hired a local gardener to create a pollinator bed in front of our house. It is fun to watch the different plants come and go - and think about what we want to move, or add. This is the third year that the bed has had time to establish itself and this is the second summer that I find myself sitting on my front porch watching the Lily of the Valley and False Sunflower take over! This year, I have vowed to document each phase of the garden, and move (or REMOVE) the plants that I don't enjoy - or ones that take over the garden. I found this relevant article on about alternative choices to common perennials (that cause trouble).

6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

Sure, these species may have lovely flowers or intriguing foliage, but they also have less desirable attributes that will have you regretting the day you tucked them in the ground.

By Megan Hughes 

August 25, 2020

6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

Sure, these species may have lovely flowers or intriguing foliage, but they also have less desirable attributes that will have you regretting the day you tucked them in the ground.

Share: 6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

In my garden, I have a few of what I call perennial troublemakers. They're the ones that turned out to have a dark side lurking beyond the promises of prolific summer blooms or the ability to tolerate the harshest heat and drought without missing a beat. In truth, their nonstop flowers result in tons of seeds that go everywhere, or their toughness is actually thanks to rampant growth that threatens to smother every living thing in a 10-foot radius. It feels like an endless struggle to keep them contained, leaving me wondering why I ever planted them in the first place. Save yourself from all these frustrations by banning these problematic perennials from your garden. Plus, I've got suggestions for much better-behaved look-alikes you can grow instead.

lily of the valley convallaria majalis

Credit: Dean Schoeppner 


Yeah, I know, this one is a classic garden plant beloved for its perfume-rich, white bell-like flowers in early spring and ability to thrive in dry shade where not much else will grow. But I've come to really dislike lily-of-the-valleybecause, a year or two after planting, it starts to spread like wild, choking out nearby plants. Once it's established, reining in this aggressive spreader requires relentless vigilance.

Plant This Instead: Though its flowers aren't fragrant, ajuga also can grow in shady spots similar to lily-of-the-valley, but won't take over the garden.

perennial bachelor's button in garden

Credit: Kritsada Panichgul 

Perennial Bachelor's Button

A catalog description focused on a parade of spring and summer flowers and easy care can beguile those who have never grown perennial bachelor’s button (Centauria spp). But ask anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of growing this plant and you’ll get an earful about its hyper-reseeding nature. The first year you’ll have one clump of it and the next year your garden is inundated with 15 clumps. Beware, perennial bachelor’s button also goes by names like mountain bluet, corn flower, and basket flower, but all are bad news.

Plant This Instead: For early summer color, plant well-behaved, pollinator favorite penstemon instead of perennial bachelor’s button.

chameleon plant houttuynia cordata

Credit: Dean Schoeppner 

Chameleon Plant

Heart-shape leaves decorated with splashes of white, green, pink, and yellow easily dazzle those unfamiliar with chameleon plant(Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). But that admiration will quickly turn to dismay when this vigorous perennial begins spreading everywhere. Plus, once it's sunk its tenacious roots into your garden, it's nearly impossible to get rid of. Even herbicides don't slow it down much so please don't fall for its cute, colorful leaves if you see it in the garden center.

Plant This Instead: There are many other well-behaved groundcover plants like creeping thymeoregano, or barrenwort that won't give you a decade-long headache like chameleon plant will.

alyssum saxatile basket of gold

Credit: Denny Schrock 

Yellow Alyssum

Blooming in early spring when we are most craving color after a long, drab winter, yellow alyssum, also called basket-of-gold, is a welcome sight in the garden. But once you get near enough to detect the flowers' fragrance, or perhaps more accurately their odor, you may end up backing away quickly. If you don't find the stinky blooms as offputting as I do, this plant actually is a tidy, drought-tolerant groundcover.

Plant This Instead: If you want early color with a more pleasing scent, opt for the delightful perfume of miniature daffodils.

tuscan sun false sunflower bloom detail

Credit: Jacob Fox 

False Sunflower

Don’t be fooled by false sunflower. Its garden behavior is nothing like true members of the sunflower family. False sunflower spreads aggressively by underground roots to form large colonies of plants. It will grow right over and through nearby perennials and shrubs, making it especially tough to evict without harming the plants it has engulfed.

Plant This Instead: Consider growing perennial sunflower, such as ‘Maximillian,’ for similar pollinator-friendly flowers on plants that aren't bent on taking over the world.

purple loosestrife in garden

Credit: Kim Cornelison 

Purple Loosestrife

This perennial has a rap sheet. It's listed as a noxious weed in many states because it overtakes wetlands and crowds out native species. Purple loosestrife is quickly recognizable, thanks to its upright purple flower spikes that bloom from midsummer through fall. Although it's banned from sale in many states, it still makes its way into gardens. Uninformed friends sometimes offer a clump or two from their garden. This is one gift to refuse. And then kindly fill in your friend on its invasive nature.

Plant This Instead: For a long-lasting punch of purple in the garden, plant native purple coneflower or blazing star instead of purple loosestrife.