Image of Eastern tiger swallowtail on mountain mint

How to Fight Plants with Plants

What’s to love about native plants that spread like crazy? Everything! Enlist these hardy troopers to help reclaim habitat from invasive species.

Image of golden ragwort early spring pollinator
Pollinators, birds, and many other animals need food – and lots of it. Vigorous natives like this golden ragwort (Packera aurea) provide that. So what are we so afraid of? (Photos above and below by Nancy Lawson)

They were the last lonely leftovers: seven pint-size transplants I couldn’t even give away. Other beauties—boneset, coneflowers, bee balms, asters—had flown off the shelves of my cubicle wall, where a “Free to Good Home” sign invited friends and colleagues to give them a new spot in their own gardens.

But the golden ragworts, still small and fairly nondesImage of golden ragwort flowerscript, had a harder time selling themselves. It didn’t help that their name sounded like “ragweed,” the plant everyone loves to hate, or that I repeatedly responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” when asked: “Does it spread?” My fellow gardeners, trained to panic in the face of plants that refuse to be kept down, backed away in terror, eyeing the pots as they would a petri dish of ebola virus.

So it was that the remaining stash of this underappreciated groundcover—which feeds bees and shelters many other creatures—ended up back in my yard, though not in its rightful place in the ground. Putting the plants aside under some sassafras trees by our driveway, I intended to give them a better home, but life got in the way. As the leaves dropped and the snow fell and one season passed into another, there they sat, neglected and trapped in their plastic pots.

Image of golden ragwort and garlic mustard
Going head to head: The silver-tinged leaves of garlic mustard, an invasive species, once covered the ground layer beneath our sassafras grove. Some renegade golden ragworts took it upon themselves to solve the problem. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

That spring, though, the plants gave me an unexpected gift in spite of my poor stewardship. As I headed past the driveway to tackle the onerous spring ritual of removing garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a persistent invasive species, I discovered the little ragworts had gotten a head start on the task. Refusing to be held captive, their roots had burst forth from the holes in the bottom of the pot and rambled fearlessly into the garlic mustard patch.

To understand what a revelation this was, it helps to know a little about garlic mustard. Originally from Europe and Asia, it’s allelopathic, releasing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other species. It’s a threat to forest understories in the U.S. and Canada and also to the West Virginia white butterfly, which seems to mistake garlic mustard for its host plant, laying eggs of caterpillars doomed to die on leaves they can’t eat.

Image of Eastern box turtle
When my husband was trying to get invasive grasses under control with his power trimmer, he searched first to see if any creatures were making their homes there. Sure enough, at least one, a young box turtle, was hiding in the vegetation, confirming my belief in gentle approaches to invasive species management in our yard. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

But in my yard, garlic mustard has finally met a worthy contender. Watching a habitat-harming plant succumb to an equally hardy native has opened my eyes to a more creative, life-affirming method of curtailing invasives on my property. Since it’s not in my nature to want to fight nature, I find the process of cutting, digging and pulling plants—no matter their provenance—a little heart-wrenching. And because I don’t want to support products that harm the land and the creatures who survive off it, I avoid herbicides. Besides, I’d rather not remove any vegetation that’s providing even minimal habitat if there are few other alternatives for nesting and food. Even my preferred, seemingly harmless method of laying down cardboard to kill grass has its consequences, potentially smothering the homes of native bees and other creatures nesting in the ground.

The idea of adding more wildlife-friendly plants while gradually removing less helpful ones, then, appeals to my sensibilities much more than declaring chemical and mechanical warfare to clear the land—and, in at least some cases, it can be more effective in the long term. Here are a few experimental methods that have proven successful on different types of sites, including my own.

1. Guerilla garden: Insert natives into patches of invasives.
Image of golden ragwort under sassafras
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Winning! By last spring, the sizable patch of garlic mustard had been mostly overtaken by the ragwort, which covers the ground with beautiful round leaves for most of the year  and produces flowers for several weeks in early spring. (Photos by Nancy Lawson)

Following the ragwort’s unexpected coup, I added more to the 12-by-12-foot garlic mustard patch and watched delightedly as it claimed the whole territory. And it took only three years—about the same length of time a similar experiment played out in the yard of Sue Barton, a University of Delaware associate professor and extension specialist. In her original attempts to eliminate Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), an invasive species that crowds out other plants, she’d tried all the standard approaches—mowing, herbicides, replanting with low fescue, and pulling the remaining scattered interlopers that sprouted. Ultimately, the effort had failed. “It’s now just solid stilt grass,” she says.

Image of Stilt grass and ferns in Sue Barton garden
Ferns inserted into a patch of Japanese stiltgrass, which can produce up to 1,000 seeds from a single plant, quickly began to cast shade that prevented further stiltgrass germination in Sue Barton’s garden. (Photo courtesy of Sue Barton)

When she later confronted a second patch of stiltgrass in the backyard, Barton changed her approach, manually weeding out the space before planting a combination of native woodferns (in the Dryopteris genus) and Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium x ‘Branford Rambler’). By spring, the fall project had taken hold and the plugs were thriving. “But the stiltgrass started to grow, and so that summer, it was like a treasure hunt, looking for the little fern plugs in amongst the two-feet-tall stilt grass,” Barton says. She again weeded the stiltgrass out by hand, and in the third year, the 1,000-square-foot space had filled in entirely with ferns. Disliked by deer, the plants were also large enough to shade the ground and prevent further germination of stiltgrass.

“I don’t necessarily know that ferns would work in every situation—what works in one instance is not guaranteed to work another,” says Barton. “It’s just our best guess.”

2. Employ Defensive Linebackers: Practice preventive planting.

Some native plants can hold their ground even against the most impressive offensive lineup. At one Maryland site, Southeastern wild rye (Elymus glabriflorus) has been observed staking its claim in a garden otherwise overtaken by invasive Canada thistle. Proactively planning for this type of “competitive exclusion”—a term for describing species duking it out for the same resources—is the best way to ensure long-term sustainability in landscapes expected to thrive on their own, says Claudia West, coauthor of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.

Image of Wild petunia with syrphid fly
Does it spread readily, even aggressively? I’ll take it! After hearing that wild petunia is a vigorous grower, I knew I had to try it. The flower fly who came to visit the pot while I was at the nursery helped seal the deal. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

“I’m on a consistent mission right now to find highly aggressive and thuggish native plants,” she says. “I am looking for native species that have all the ecological value, that can outcompete some of the invasive stuff we’re dealing with.”

I’d rather have a very thuggish, vigorous native plant take over an area than have it covered in honeysuckle or autumn olive. … We’re looking for plants that can stand their ground. —Claudia West

In planting projects she undertakes as the ecological sales manager for North Creek Nurseries, West sometimes sneaks in tough native spreaders like wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) and native sedges—species that provide food and cover for wildlife who’ve evolved to depend on them. Though some of the plants won’t leave room for much else, the tradeoff is worth it. “I’d rather have a very thuggish, vigorous native plant take over an area than have it covered in honeysuckle or autumn olive, especially for landscapes that we know from the beginning will not receive a lot of care,” says West. “Think about all the storm water maintenance along highways. Think about parking lots. We’re looking for plants that can stand their ground.”

Image of monarda didyma
I’ve transplanted bits and pieces of this original bee balm – one of the first perennials in my new garden 17 years ago – all over our property. It has never let me (or the hummingbirds) down, filling in large spaces with its spectacular firecracker blooms just in time for the Fourth of July. Invasive species don’t even try to get near its dense clumps. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

It’s a useful strategy in many home landscapes as well, especially for gardeners with a heart and mind for helping wildlife but a property covered in turfgrass edged by invasive vines and shrubs. Preventing further encroachment of these plants in my own yard are mountain mint, blue mistflower, bee balm, elderberry, gray dogwood, Pennsylvania sedge and other stalwart defenders. Planted little by little over many seasons in areas where they can freely spread their wings—and roots and seeds—they’ve started to fill in previously barren or invasive-prone spots in our two acres.

3. Recruit Volunteers: Encourage self-starters.

“If I do nothing, what will happen?” asks pioneering landscape designer Larry Weaner in his 2016 book, Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change. While not advocating for a cessation of gardening, Weaner encourages readers to use the question as a guiding principle for creating an ecological landscape or restoring a degraded site. In other words, what native plants are already lying dormant in the land, waiting for us to stop mowing them down? What valuable seeds might migrate into the garden on the breeze or in the bellies of birds? Weaner has seen this strategy come to fruition in his planting projects, as when he added Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) to a client’s meadow and later saw it thriving in an adjacent lawn that a neighbor had let go—and grow.

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The joy of discovery: Watching what comes next is part of the fun of letting the lawn go. Above: Turfgrass turned into broomsedge, which then put out the welcome mat for purpletop grass, frost asters, and hyssop-leaved thoroughwort (below) that attracts common buckeyes and other butterflies who greet us on our mowed path leading to the compost pile. (Photos by Nancy Lawson)

Refusing to be held back, such unexpected visitors are an increasingly common occurrence on my property as well. Learning who they are and how they grow has been one of the great joys Image of Common buckeye on hyssop-leaved thoroughwortof gardening (or what I’m starting to think of as “un-gardening.”) Some are diminutive, like the blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) that came up singly in a patch of old turfgrass by our back deck. Others make themselves known with wild abandon, like the hyssop-leaved thoroughwort (Eupatorium hyssopifolium) that shot up high above an old bulb garden we inherited from previous homeowners, beckoning fall-migrating monarchs. An entire field of broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) and purpletop grass (Tridens flavus) graces our backyard where there used to be only mowed lawn, making way for more wildflowers—and eventually trees—with each passing year.

Image of Eastern red cedar in ground ivy
Serving up two invasives with a side of one valuable native: The ground ivy and Bradford pear seedlings were enough to make me want to throw in the trowel. But then I saw these little Eastern red cedars boldly making their way through the morass. We moved a few of the seedlings into more sunlight and surrounded the remaining ones with newspaper and leaves so they’d have room to grow. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

Two summers ago, as I pondered how to address invasive ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) in the front yard, my husband stopped mowing there so the bees could feed on the plant’s early flowers and nest in the bare patches of soil between. By fall, when the ground ivy had continued to spread and I was still plagued with indecision, we discovered that nature had been thinking much more creatively. An inspection of the area revealed nine baby Eastern red cedars peeking up through the leaves, humbling me once again: The previous spring, I’d spent $30 on three diminutive plugs of the same species, and here were three times as many coming up for free. They were healthy and strong and ready to provide nesting, cover and fruit for many bird species, as well as food for foxes, rabbits, raccoons, and butterfly caterpillars who call that tree species home.

Ground ivy, the plant I didn’t want, was serving as a kind of nurse plant for the one I did—something that could only have happened when we’d stopped cutting everything off at the knees.

For more tips on working with nature in your garden, check out my new book, The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, due for release from Princeton Architectural Press on April 18.

Featured image at top: A mountain mint (Pycnanthemum flexuosum) showed up on its own near a patch of golden ragwort. An Eastern tiger swallowtail signaled her approval. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)

41 thoughts on “How to Fight Plants with Plants”

  1. Now I want to tackle the English Ivy and Pachysandra in our backyard with … something.

    My last idea involves using a metal garden rake (the rigid, non-leaf rake) like a spaghetti fork and hoping it would rip it out. This sounds much easier, and definitely more likely to work.

    1. Hi Zack! I think that would actually work well in concert with this method. You could clear a little space at a time. I may have forgotten to mention that that’s what I did with the garlic mustard. In order to insert more ragwort, I would need to pull a few of the garlic mustards. But instead of pulling it all at once, I just did a little at a time. If I had pulled it all at once and not refilled it entirely with plants right away, those garlic mustards or some other invasive would have just come right back. It makes it so much more manageable, both physically and mentally, to take it bit by bit. Also in this area, there used to be a zillion Bradford pear seedlings! I was forever pulling them out. The ragwort has shaded those out, too … so bit by bit!! :)

      1. What would be a good replacement for English ivy? In my case it’s underneath a row of hemlock trees, one side is a slope next to the driveway, the other side is creeping into our flat lawn.

        1. Hi Beth,

          It depends where you live if you are looking to replace with something that’s locally native. But I am also trying golden ragwort on a friend’s property, this one with a whole side yard of English ivy. We are taking out the ivy one patch at a time and inserting the ragwort, and it is working so far. If we took out the entire ivy all at once, there would be too much opportunity for it to fill back in before the other plants spread.

          Some native sedges are also really good spreaders and can take some shade. Pennsylvania sedge spreads well for me under shrubs where ground ivy would otherwise be encroaching.

          In addition to state native plant societies, some of my favorite sources for finding native plants by zip code or state are on this page: http://www.humanegardener.com/native-plant-sources/ At Ladybird Johnson’s site, you can also find groupings of plants in your region by category – shrubs, vines, groundcovers, etc. They’ll tell you a lot about the growth habits, and another interesting place to find information about growth habits is Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder. It doesn’t have plants for the entire country, but you can find quite a few that are native to many regions: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx

          Another interesting source that I really love to look at is a Forest Service database that provides all kinds of info about wildlife habitat offered by different species as well as growth habits and plants they naturally mix with. It’s a lot of info to look at at first, but easy to find what you’re looking for once you get used to it: https://www.feis-crs.org/feis/faces/index.xhtml

          In general, anything that is going to quickly form a dense matrix — and that could involve one groundcover or a layered mixture of plants — could help not only hold the ground against more rooting but also shade out germination of the ivy’s seeds. Once you clear a spot, it helps to plant plants closer together than the standard guidelines recommend.

        2. Replacement for English Ivy/Pachysandra/Periwinkle:
          Rhus Aromatica (Fragrant Sumac) is excellent on slopes in dry areas.
          Pennsylvania Sedge is fantastic and you can divide it and spread it all around your landscape.
          Christmas Ferns.
          We just bought some Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny Spurge) to try out. Too early to give an opinion.

          1. Thanks, Kyle! These are great tips. I was just trying to figure out something for a friend’s slope and had forgotten about fragrant sumac! Great idea. I love the native pachysandra. It’s kind of a slow grower, at least where I am, so I think probably in a situation where a groundcover is needed quickly, starting with a number of plugs would be helpful.

  2. This is REALLY interesting. Thank you so much for this information. I just shared your story to all my Facebook pages!
    I always love your blog posts! Thank you, Leslie Nelson Inman

  3. I love this post – thank you! We’ve experienced something like this in the past when we had a 5 acre abandoned soybean field we seeded with a mix of native grass seed and forbs. The first year we primarily saw ragweed and patches of field bindweed. The latter had me very nervous, wondering if we were going to end up with a huge expanse of primarily bindweed. Lo and behold, the ragweed seemed to outcompete the bindweed…and still allowed the native grasses and forbs to establish. An n=1 story, but I’d sure try to fight bindweed with ragweed again!

    We just discovered that we have torpedo grass, Panicum repens, in one area of the yard. Your post is getting me to think outside the herbicide box to ponder what native species we might try to grow to combat that nasty invasive.

    Again, thank you!

    1. I love that! Thank you for sharing the story! Since ragweed is a pioneer species, it seems like if you just let it do its thing, it’ll eventually give way to more grasses and wildflowers — as it sounds like it did on your property. And it is helpful to wildlife along the way. How great to know that it also can help the gardener if we just let it! :)

    2. LOVE this article and share your ethics! I have found jerusalem artichoke (helianthus tubrosa: https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=HETU) to eliminate the bindweed in my yard –and I get the benefit of an edible crop, a screen from my neighbor’s pool, and additional birds and bees:) Currently working on an experiment to see if Fragaria virginiana can overtake Glechoma hederacea:). Also trying to find something to take on quackgrass and sow thistle until our trees are actually providing a shade canopy.

  4. We live on a smallish corner lot in SE Nebraska, with very little lawn. I made the mistake of planting a non-native bellflower a neighbor gave me when we first moved here. I have been pulling it as often as I can. Last spring, I planted some clumps of a monarda of some kind, hoping it would take over. They didn’t spread much. Hopefully, they will this season.

    Across the street, where I also garden, there is a huge patch of the bellflower, since I had shared some with the tenant who was there a number of years ago. I don’t let it bloom, but have not been able to keep up. Last year, I planted a couple thorny fruit bearing shrubs I was given in the middle of the patch. We’ll see if that helps or not.

    I do have some of the plants you mentioned, and dig from the edges each spring to share them.

    1. Hi Sue,

      That’s a tough one for sure — if it is the one I’m thinking of, it spreads by both prolific seeding and rhizomes. Layers of different plants that both hug the ground and rise above, and that leaf out early and densely, might at least overshadow the seeds and prevent further germination if you work on it patch by patch.

      One thing I’ve found is that if I simply clear an area without densely replanting all of it right away, it just gets filled again. But when I tackle one small area at a time in this fashion, I can make headway. The two books I mentioned in the post have useful examples, but even more valuable are the explanations of how these species with different growth habits both intermingle and compete below ground.

  5. Wonderful article! Can’t wait to do “un-gardening” starting with using golden ragwort to battle the garlic mustard for me.

  6. I have been slowly adding violets of all colors under my “island planting” which are areas of different native trees, fruit producing shrubs, perennials and ground covers with bulbs. (Host plants for different fritillaries.) Dug out most of the garlic mustard last year before it seeded. (Did have an Appalachian White using the flower 😞). Noticed this year so far the garlic mustard isn’t as aggressive. Now if I can take care of the mugwort. (Using beebalms to try to strangle.).

    1. Hi Marcy,

      That sounds like such great habitat! How sad that an Appalachian white was using the garlic mustard. So do you think it’s the violets that are reducing their numbers? If so that would be another good thing to recommend. Come to think of it, I don’t think I even have any garlic mustard near my violet patches – maybe that’s why.

      Mugwort likes it here, too. Kind of funny, but I have some wild bergamot near mine as well — may the bee balms prevail! :)

  7. My mom has honeysuckle (planted before we knew how invasive it was) that is trying to take over one of her rose bushes, old blush. We have tried to cut it out but have not been able to eradicate it. What do you suggest we plant to help get rid of it? We are in central Texas.

  8. Hi Stefanie,

    You are right near the best resource for this — the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. I don’t know the plants as well there, but I assume you’re talking about one of the nonnative honeysuckles. (The native honeysuckle – Lonicera sempervirens – is very valuable to wildlife and worth keeping.) In searching on the native plants database for a lower-growing, spreading plant that could grow in similar conditions to what Japanese honeysuckle prefers, I found wine cups. I searched for something that spreads and keeps its leaves much of the year, as this would help to shade out germinating seeds. http://www.wildflower.org/plants/combo.php?fromsearch=true&distribution=&habit=habit_herb&duration=duration_perennial&light_partshade=1&moist_dry=1&leafretention_evergreen=1

    First I’d tackle the honeysuckle again. For invasive honeysuckle, which we have as well, I would cut to the ground (again) and then cover the roots with wet cardboard or newspaper before adding some mulch on top of that — just to prevent the plant from getting any sunlight. There has also been success with using black plastic to kill invasive plants after cutting them — see http://news.wisc.edu/buckthorn-baggie-kills-invasive-trees-without-chemicals/. I’ve done the latter in my own yard with things like porcelainberry, an invasive.

    I’d then start adding the winecups (or another groundcover that you find to be appropriate) nearby. As they start to spread, you could remove the cardboard and mulch and put more winecups there or let your original ones keep rambling into the spot.

    I would definitely check with Ladybird and search around on their site — but hopefully these are some ideas that can help you get started! :)

  9. Hello! My yard is overrun with goutweed and patches of Japanese knotweed, both maddeningly tenacious. I live in northwest Connecticut. I am wondering what native plants could possibly oust these two particular weeds. Many thanks for your suggestions!!!!

    1. I’ve been having some luck with canada anemone when it comes to gradually crowding out the goutweed in one of our overrun and otherwise empty garden patches. It’s a plant that also has a tendency to spread pretty aggressively, but it is a native, and I’ve heard that it’s much easier to pull out than the goutweed is.

      1. Dear Yana,
        Thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my post. I haven’t heard of Canada anemone, but I will look it up. Every day I am finding more and more goutweed, so I’m pretty desperate! Is Canada anemone considered invasive?

        1. Thanks, Yana! That’s a great idea. Maureen, I think that’s native to your region, so it wouldn’t be considered invasive. I think it is even a threatened species in Connecticut. Also, my friend had a difficult time with goutweed in her Washington, DC, garden, and she ended up trying the golden ragwort mentioned in this post. That worked for her. The trick would probably be to keep taking out the goutweed as these other plants continue to spread — giving the ones you want a helping hand.

          1. Hi, Nancy. Thank you for your suggestion re: golden ragwort. Where can one get these plants? Are they available at most nurseries or should I try to find them online?

          2. Hi Maureen, you can certainly order from online sources (Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Izel Plants), and I’ve done that. But at this time of year, there are so many wonderful native plant sales that I would recommend finding the ones coming up in your area. (Here is an example of one in CT: http://www.conservect.org/ctrivercoastal/PlantSale/tabid/321/Default.aspx) That way you can talk to people there who have knowledge of the plants.

            Some mainstream nurseries do also carry natives, but usually the selection is limited. Here is another link from a national site, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, which provides lists by state for suppliers, recommended plants, etc. This list has some CT native nurseries:
            http://www.wildflower.org/suppliers/search.php?b_state=CT

            Usually state native plant and botanical societies have upcoming plant sales listed on their sites as well. And one other thing, I saw that you asked about knotweed also, and this morning I noticed something in my garden: The area where I have a problem with knotweed also has fleabane (Erigeron species). I pulled a bunch of knotweed there last year, and it appears it has started to give a leg up to the fleabanes! They are beautiful native species that tend to grow naturally and volunteer themselves in lawns and gardens. People often pull them, thinking they are weeds — their first leaves look sort of “suspicious” in that way :) — but they are just the sweetest little daisy-type flowers, and they can act as a groundcover. They also feed lots of tiny native bees emerging in spring. You can buy fleabanes at native plant sales and nurseries, and you can also learn their leaves so that you leave them when they volunteer. At any rate, this seems to be a good one for the knotweed so far … Here is a link to some info about them: http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/Plants/view/193

          3. Dear Nancy,
            I can’t even begin to thank you enough for your helpful advice and the links that you’ve provided. I’m deeply appreciative!! How on earth did you uproot the knotweed? Where they young plants? When we move to this house eleven years ago the knotweed and goutweed seemed well established and are sooooo difficult to uproot.

          4. Oh, of course! I hope they help. Yes, they were just young plants, and the soil was easier to dig in than in other places in my yard. So it sounds like the conditions were better for getting it out here.

  10. Fight plants with plants! YES! I love it. I have been doing just this. I also have a major goutweed problem. But I have been using Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) to fight it. After several methods of removing goutweed (http://savvygardening.com/goutweed/#comment-22490) I have been replanting areas with Cup plant from seed. Although native to the Great Lakes and Mid-West regions, it is apparently considered “invasive” in extreme north-east states (NY, CT, VT). That said, this plant is very useful and appears to be a “contender” in the fight against invasive plants. I have a rabbitry and routinely feed this plant to the rabbits. The flowers are amazing (July – Sept) attracting multitudes of insects and the seeds are devoured by goldfinches and other critters. It is a perennial and takes several years to reach maturity but the plants will survive for decades.

    1. Hi Myles! That is great to know – a lot of people have been asking about controlling goutweed, so I will share your tip. Last year I bought a cup plant for the first time and am excited to see what happens. Based on your experience, I think I should try some from seed, too! I love the way cup plant leaves serve as little water dishes for animals, too. :) Thanks for the tip!

  11. yes, observing ground ivy for many years here and it is not only excellent for bees and pretty in bloom, but improves the soil it grows on which accounts for the germination you saw. I found that over time it does move around so no one spot has a patch permanently. But it is a chore to pull it from where its not wanted … but then the compost pile benefits.
    It is an important point to observe over time before taking action. Nature can come up with better ideas than our preconceived notions if given the chance.

    1. Hi Stuart, thank you – yes, I totally agree! Observing first is not only more effective but also more fun, right? I didn’t know that the ground ivy improves the soil, but that makes sense! I’m excited to see what the next phase will be.

  12. I really enjoyed this article! I’ve been working on beating back the vines and weeds and brush in our overgrown yard in Maryland since we moved in a year ago, so this is very timely. Is there anything you recommend to compete with bamboo? Our next door neighbors have a huge amount as a privacy screen (a running variety, unfortunately), which over the years has lead to a fair amount of it establishing itself in our yard. I cut it all down and have been working on digging out the large roots (tough stuff!) but am struggling with a long term strategy. We won’t have an easy time trying to put in a barrier because of a few large trees in the same area. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Amy! Thanks, I’m so glad the article is helpful! Bamboo is so tough that I think you would need a backhoe to get to those roots. That’s something one of our local parks did to remove the bamboo encroaching from someone’s private property. They had actually already tried spraying and found that it didn’t work. The backhoeing did work, but the trouble is that if you’re neighbors don’t do it, too, the bamboo would come back without some kind of deep barrier, and as you say, that’s not practical in this situation and probably in most others. Is there any way you can talk with your neighbors about taking it all out and replacing with a different type of privacy screen? There are so many non-harmful and beautiful and actually beneficial ways to create screening.

      1. Thanks, Nancy! I’ve thought about talking to them about it – I’m not sure what’s really practical for them at this point, but we’ll see. I really appreciate this article and your advice!

  13. Any suggestions for fighting back poison ivy this way? I know it’s native and useful in ways, but it’s spreading and causing problems. What might be able to outcompete it in hedgerows?

    1. Hi Colleen, that’s a good question. As you say, it’s good to leave where you can but not so helpful in areas where you need to garden and walk. I’ve seen some discussion about this in the comments section when people share this piece on Facebook. For the ground layer, I recommend sheet mulching — with cardboard topped by leaves, compost, and/or mulch or whatever other organic matter you have on hand. When it’s already climbing trees, I’ve seen wild grapevine outcompete it (but then of course you have to be willing to live with the wild grapevine, which is so vigorous that some people in smaller gardens don’t like it, but I have to growing up tree snags where the poison ivy used to be). Another idea I saw was to use woodland edge plants like tall meadow rue and New England aster to help shade out germination and young vines. I know in some restoration projects, native shrubs like viburnums, elderberries and witch hazels are used to effectively “seal the edges” by blocking sunlight enough to prevent vine growth. But for that to work you have to pull out or smother the existing vegetation that you don’t want. Let me know what other ideas you see!

  14. We’re in southeast Massachusetts and get a lot of poke weed sprouts. I don’t want these tonmature andmprdice berries that I think are poisonous. What might be a good native plantingntjsyncould overtake pokeweed?

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