Invasive Plants to Avoid at Garden Center and Never Grow in Your Garden | Almanac.com

10 Invasive Plants to Avoid at the Garden Center!

callery pear

It may look pretty, but looks are deceiving. We now know that the cheap, stinky invasive Bradford pear tree crowds out native plants. 

Photo Credit
James P Mock/SS

Find out which plants you should NEVER grow in your yard

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I am always amazed when I see known invasives being sold at garden centers, online, and in catalogs. Here are 10 silent invaders you should never bring home to grow in your yard—plus, some substitute plants to grow instead.

Autumn Olive

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is often sold in wildlife packages or for erosion control. Birds do love its berries, which is one way they spread. Able to grow rapidly in sun and shade, their roots alter the soil chemistry around them to keep other plants from germinating nearby, and they outcompete and quickly displace native species.

Substitute plants: Native Physocarpus or Viburnum both offer colorful fall foliage and berries for birds and other wildlife.

autumn olive bush
Autumn olive has silvery leaves and produces loads of berries. Credit: Zagaga/Shutterstock

Bishop’s Weed

Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), also known as goutweed, is my arch-enemy. The variegated leaf type was growing on my property when we moved in 38 years ago, and even though we mow it and pull it up, it still comes back. 

I am always appalled when I see it for sale. It is quite pretty, grows in sun or shade, and is totally bulletproof, so I can understand why people buy it. Don’t! 

The extremely invasive green type keeps making its way from my neighbor’s house via seeds the birds drop. I spend a lot of time every spring and summer digging up its brittle roots, which tend to snap off. Leaving even a tiny piece behind causes it to resprout soon after. We have tried smothering large sections of it with black plastic, but it manages to return. They say the only way to be rid of it is to move!

Substitute plants: Native foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) or wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) for shady areas.

bishops weed or goutweed
In the Queen Anne’s Lace family, goutweed has a similar flower. Don’t let it go to seed! Credit: imamchits

Bradford Pear

Ugh! It may look pretty, but the awful Bradford pear (Pyrus calleriana)—also called Callery pear—has been sold widely as a cheap ornamental landscape tree. Even though it is self-sterile, it can cross-pollinate with other types of callery pears, and those offspring have proven to be invasive, escaping to forest areas, dominating the landscape, and shading out all other growth. 

Substitute plants: They are such a problem in South Carolina that Clemson University offers up to 5 free native replacement trees—including oaks, maples, hornbeam, river birch, and magnolia—to homeowners who cut down their Bradford pears.

More substitute plants include native dogwood, redbud, and serviceberry. All provide spring bloom, fall color, and berries for wildlife. 

a bradford pear invasion
The Bradford (Callery) Pear invasion. If you have this tree, many cities have buy-back programs.

Burning Bush

Burning bush (Euonymous alatus) is another invasive I often see for sale. People can’t resist its flaming red fall foliage even though it is on the invasive species list in many states. This is another plant that came with my house. The former owner made sure to tell me all about how beautiful it was and to never cut it down. Needless to say, when we learned of its invasive nature, we cut it immediately and continue to battle with it resprouting all around the property and into the neighboring woods. Easy to spot in the fall, we diligently patrol the woods around us and yank those suckers out. 

Substitute plants: Native Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatic) or Nannyberry (Viburnum lenatgo). Both have colorful fall foliage and berries for the birds.

a burning bush in the fall
Burning bush has stunning fall color but unfortunately birds spread its seeds far and wide where it overtakes native vegetation. Credit: Poupine/SS

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

Butterfly bush (Buddleia) is a favorite of ours for the butterflies and pollinators it attracts. I was surprised to see it on the invasive list since it never reseeds in my area. We deadhead as the blossoms fade, so seeds don’t get a chance to develop, but it is easy to miss one or two, especially if the bush is large and full of flowers. Unfortunately, this non-native not only outcompetes native plants but also reduces the native’s reproductive success, eventually harming the native’s populations.

If you already own a Buddleia, you don’t have to remove it. But prune it severely when the flowers have faded so it can not spread its seeds. Some Butterfly Bush cultivars are marketed as being sterile or low-fertility. Unfortunately, many of these plants will revert to their original.

Substitute plants: Plant one of the many gorgeous native plants that attract and support butterflies. For sunny yards, try Sweet Pepperbush, also called Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) which attracts butterflies as well as birds, including hummingbirds! Another choice is Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a flowering shrub that is deer-resistant and a good nectar source that attracts butterflies and pollinators to your yard. 

If you’re into purple flowers, consider the Gayfeather (Liatris spicata), which attracts bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. And if you wish to support Monarch butterflies, plant the native Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), which not only supports adult butterflies but also the American butterfly baby (that is, caterpillars). 

buddleia or a butterfly bush with butterflies on it
Buddleia is sometimes called summer lilac for its similar-looking flowers. Credit: David O’Brien.I

Chameleon Plant

Many plants we’re attracted to buying are beautiful. The chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) is no exception. Native to Southeast Asia, this ground cover has very attractive, multi-colored leaves and, like many ground covers, spreads by underground rhizomes—fast! If you try to weed it out those brittle rhizomes break and any scrap left behind will just resprout, similar to bishop’s weed. It grows in sun or shade and likes moist soil.

Substitute plants: Native heuchera, tiarella, or a showy hybrid of the two called heucherella.

chameleon plant
Another beautiful foliage plant to tempt you but don’t be fooled! It will take over your garden and is tough to eradicate. Credit: islavicek/SS

Dame’s Rocket

Resembling phlox when it blooms in late spring, Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) seeds can be found in wildflower meadow mixes, even though it’s not a native plant. The blooms are fragrant and pastel-colored. 

A biennial, Dame’s Rocket spreads by seed to take over roadsides and sunny woodland edges. If you see it for sale, don’t bring it home to plant in your cottage garden, or it will soon be the only thing growing in your cottage garden.

Substitute plants: Natives such as anise hyssop, phlox, or monarda.

dames rocket in a meadow
Dame’s rocket will quickly escape your garden and establish itself wherever its seeds can germinate. Credit: Dean Pennala

English Ivy

Often sold as a ground cover or climber, English ivy (Hedera helix) quickly scampers up trees or buildings or crawls across the ground, smothering anything in its path. It roots easily wherever the stems touch the ground. It can reach 90 feet high into the forest canopy, blocking sunlight from reaching tree leaves, and eventually killing the trees. It is best grown as a trailing plant in a windowbox or hanging basket.

Substitute plants: Consider climbing hydrangea for vining growth and wild ginger as a ground cover.

english ivy on a tree
English ivy may look sedate on a college campus building but once it touches the ground it is off and running out of control.  Credit: kq333/SS


These flowers may look dainty and smell sweet, but Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) has an extremely aggressive nature and soon forms large colonies, crowding out all its neighbors if planted in a mixed flower bed. It is also toxic to people and pets. 

Substitute plants: Native bunchberry, wintergreen, or tiarella as shady groundcovers. For early blossoms, try snowdrops.

lily of the valley flowers
Like many charmers, lily of the valley is not to be trusted! All parts are poisonous and it will take over your garden. Credit: DiandraNina

Yellow Flag Iris

Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudocorus) is sold as an ornamental for wet locations around ponds and streams. However, it forms dense colonies, choking out native shoreline plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous and can cause skin irritation.

Substitute plants: Blue flag iris, yellow pond lily, or pickerelweed.

yellow flag iris along a stream
Yellow flag iris has been planted in wet areas near ponds and brooks by many unsuspecting gardeners who later regret it. Credit: sma1050

When plant shopping, be sure to do your homework so you don’t add a plant to your landscape that you will later regret. If a well-meaning friend wants to give you any of these troublemakers, say no!

Learn more about how to stop invasive plants from spreading.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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