What To Do When An Invasive Herb Takes Over Your Garden

Tips about how to keep one herb from destroying your entire garden.

| August/September 2001

Question: What can you do about herbs that grow too well? 

Answer: Most beginning gardeners experience the occasional problem of enthusiastically planting something new, only to discover by the end of the season that it seems to want to eat up every inch of available garden space before it goes on to conquer the world. And sometimes a plant that is well-behaved in your climate might be Attila the Hun in another region of the United States. Oftentimes, you don’t know its growth habits until you grow it.

Many examples spring to mind. Take, for example, the dandelion: The leaves are nourishing greens for salads and the root has a number of traditional medicinal uses, but it is widely regarded as a meace. Its puffballs toss so much seed to the winds that one plant can become a yard full if you let it. Because it has a deep taproot, it can be tough to pull without breaking off the top.

Other plants may become invasive because they spread in all directions via runners or suckers (some of the mints forget their manners in this way). Sometimes any small bit of root or rhizome left in the ground lives on, perhaps sprouting two plants in place of the one you thought you pulled. Tilling the soil can aggravate the problem as roots are chopped up into many pieces and plants sprout off of each piece.

Some plants may become troublesome just because they grow much taller or wider than you expected, or because once established they are difficult to eradicate.

Remember that vigor and fast, strong growth are assets in a plant—up to a point. That point can depend not only on the plant and the climate, but also on the amount of space you have in which to garden and your level of tolerance.

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