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Be plant-wise, garden smart

May 3, 2011
By HILARY SMITH , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

And just like that, things are growing. After what seemed like an endless winter followed by a cold, wet spring, finally plants are emerging and greening the Adirondacks. If perennial flower gardening is in your forecast, now is the time when you anxiously await to see if what you planted last year survived the winter, and if it will also survive against the furry, four-legged foes eagerly awaiting the taste of fresh, young plant candy.

Amidst the native trout lily, bloodroot and Dutchman's breeches which are thrilling to see in my garden, there, too, grows the miniature three-lobed menace - goutweed - soon to be a broad-leaved giant choking my plant beds if it is not swiftly dug out by its roots. If left to spread, goutweed will entrench its white, spindly roots in dense webbing matted below the soil's surface. Managing goutweed is not for the faint of heart; neither is managing any other invasive plant for that matter. What may at first seem like an exotic and desirable plant can quickly become a nuisance and then, for some, a nightmare.

Unsuspecting gardeners first introduced goutweed and other invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed, Japanese barberry and Oriental bittersweet as ornamental plantings. Rapid growth, lush vegetation, appealing color and attractive berries make them irresistible to some gardeners. What is missing from their commercial profiles is that that they are also prolific reproducers, resource hogs and garden escapees.

Article Photos

The author is glad to see Dutchman’s breeches in her garden.
(Photo — Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

Knotweed invades river and stream corridors, eroding miles of streambanks; barberry runs rampant through acres of the forest floor, smothering native wildflowers and tree seedlings; and bittersweet twines around trees, girdling and pulling them down to the ground. Without native predators and diseases to help keep their growth in check, invasive plants gain the upper hand in our gardens and on native species and wildlands.

To set yourself up for success in the garden, be plant-wise and garden smart this season. Landscape with native plants or only those non-native plants that are not invasive. Native plants are well adapted to local conditions. They are vigorous, hardy and able to survive winter cold and summer heat. Once established, they require little or no irrigation or fertilization, saving you energy and water. Native plants are also more resistant to local pests and diseases, so the use of pesticides is minimized. Birds, butterflies, bees and other desirable wildlife are also attracted to native plants, trees and shrubs.

Before your next trip to the nursery or next catalog or online purchase, get to know your plants. Select species that are not causing problems in natural areas in our region, and make sure you know what species to avoid. Problem plants are listed on on the "Terrestrial Plant ID" page.

Be mindful during plant swaps. Many invasive plants get moved around because they are attractive garden plants. Do not share cuttings, seedlings or plants that are invasive with neighbors and friends.

Use only seed mixes that are invasive plant-free. Some invasive plants were introduced because they were contaminants in wildflower and grass seed mixes. Check the ingredients of seed mixes, and buy them from reputable sources that guarantee the purity and content of their seed. Take your regional native plant list with you when you buy the mix.

And finally, ask your nursery or plant provider if they carry native plants, and if they don't, request that they do! For a regional list of alternatives to invasive ornamentals, log onto, or, or call the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program at 518-576-2082 x131.


Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. Find out more about this award-winning program online at



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