How To Know When Not To Buy A Plant You Love

– Posted in: Garden Design

I fell in love with chasmanthium the first time I saw it.

October 2005 top level from a distance


October 2005 pictures in garden 039

It’s a 3 foot tall, green perennial grass that emerges in the spring. During the fall, with its yellow- orange color and a backlit sun in late afternoon, it’s a star of the garden. It’s like a prairie setting in a movie, swaying with the slightest breeze.

One spring, I bought several.

October 2005 pictures in garden 038

October 2005 pictures in garden 042

I loved them for three years. But then I noticed that the hostas and alliums were disappearing. I dug around and saw that chasmanthium had become invasive and was smothering the other plants.

I trashed all of them.

Although I paid a price for using chasmanthium, I learned a valuable lesson.

Information on the web and plant labels can be misleading. Climate and where a plant is placed in a garden effects its growth pattern. I’ve seen plants that are barely a foot tall in the east and over 5 feet tall on the west coast.

If you decide to buy a plant that’s difficult to control, you’ll need to be vigilant about pulling out all of its seedlings. Everyday. They’re like ants that spread more quickly than you can catch them.

And you damn well better love it!

You might want to check out a post I read a few years ago on Natives vs. Aliens.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
9 comments… add one

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Diane November 20, 2011, 7:49 am

I planted this and photographed the pretty seed heads for two years. Wow are they pretty! Then, I too discovered the invasiveness of this plant when I lived in Chicago. It traveled under the fence to my neighbors garden and smothered her roses. I practically needed dynamite to remove it. This plant was my intro to invasives!

The seed heads are magical, aren’t they? Yeah…too much of anything is no good. The beauty of living in Chicago is that you have such a great opportunity at the Lurie Garden to see so many of the natives planted like a tapestry. Lucky you. And what a great gardening city Chicago is. But not for chasmanthiums! Fran

Kathy Fitzgerald November 20, 2011, 11:28 am

You are soooo right. I had similar experiences with Coreopsis grandifolia (120% germination rate) and Eupatorium coelestinum (hardy ageratum, which took me three years to eradicate once it settled in).
The other side of this coin is falling in love with plants that refuse to do well in your particular microclimate. Texas bluebonnets, allegedly rampant seeders, disappeared without a trace from my North Carolina garden. Ditto any alliums except chives. Heartbreaking, but true.
Take the information on plant tags with three or four grains of salt. In general, it’s just advisory.

HA! I’m laughing as I read your note. Oh yes indeed. If I told a non-gardener how much money I’ve spent on plants that don’t make it in the garden, they would scratch their head in bewilderment.

The first time I saw Romneya coulterii, I was determined to have it. I think I must have ordered it least 3 or 4 years before I realized it just wasn’t going to make it….not even one survived.

I understand your ‘heartbreak’ over not being able to have alliums or bluebonnets survive. Alliums in particular….they are such wonderful, long bloomers.

I think gardeners tend to be pretty resilient. And that we’re pretty facile at finding substitutes for the ones we can’t have.

I’ve always gotten the best advice from gardening friends in my area who have either had experience with a plant. Fran

Yvonne Kochanowski November 20, 2011, 11:34 am

It’s always interesting to see how plants behave differently given the unique setting! My sea oats has not spread other than growing into bigger clumps. It hasn’t been invasive, and its gentle swaying in the regular afternoon breezes here in northern California’s foothill/mountain region is a terrific match for the gaura, daylilies and other sun-loving perennials in our beds. And it’s growing equally well in a bamboo garden that receives only a couple of hours of sun a day. We love it!

I can visualize the way it looks in your garden. Hmmmm….lucky you! And the fact that it works in your bamboo garden as well is a testament to the plant. In the right setting, I don’t think it can be outmatched by any other grass, especially because it does so well in shade.

Debra Lee Baldwin November 20, 2011, 11:51 am

I have several invaders, ironically, plants that I wanted desperately and that took a while to get established. One of my first posts for GGW was “No More Primroses, Please!” They still take over, come spring.

Oenthera speciosa is prolific in Israel. It does look so beautiful weaving in and around the base of succulents.

In Philly, I was glad if mine made it through a season. Go figure! Fran

UrsulaV November 20, 2011, 4:00 pm

I actually found that mine behaves pretty well—but I planted it at the base of pine trees, in part shade where it doesn’t get nearly as much water as it’d like. It still seeds pretty freely, but the hostile conditions have kept it from eating the world…yet. We’ll see how I feel in a couple of years….

Maybe you found a good solution to keeping them under control. If they can live with the pine trees in relative peace, that’s terrific. If I lived in the mid-west with a prairie like piece of land, I would love to fill it with chamanthium. It is a stunner. Fran

Gail November 21, 2011, 9:15 pm

River Oats is a true colonizer~I don’t mind it’s spread in my garden but, it can be a problem if folks have ideal conditions and a smaller garden. gail

If it’s not invading other plants, no matter what size garden, that’s great. Spot on about it being even more problematic for gardeners with small spaces. Fran

Cathy November 22, 2011, 3:32 pm

OMG, I could have written this LOL. I SO wanted to attract butterflies, birds and bees. Substitute Mondarda for the chasmanthium and you’re living my nightmare. Except that I compounded it by tossing the mondarda that we dug up into the compost pile, where it thrived and sent seeds spreading back into all of our beds.

Don’t ask… it was at least 4 years before we were able to completely eradicate it.

I keep seeing these gorgeous monardas, and now the dwarf ones are available everywhere as well, making it even harder for me to resist them. I SO want to try it again, but then I regain my sanity and go on to another choice…..

Quite a story you have! Interesting…because I’ve never had a problem with monarda spreading. I’m sure you have plenty of echinacea….which i think can do as much for a garden as monarda. And so many varieties from which to choose…FYI…plus a much longer bloomer.
At this point…..I go for easy maintenance and good hardiness as much as beauty! Fran

Hoover Boo November 22, 2011, 6:51 pm

My invasive nemesis turned out to be a native plant, Cercis occidentalis, which makes perfect sense, really–of course it is going to thrive in its native climate. I learned the lesson that invaders are not necessarily exotics!

Yep. It does make sense that when a plant is in its native habitat that it thrives very nicely. And can be invasive. You’re right. It’s not just exotics.

Itea virginica is a native deciduous shrub that I love. It gets all over the place and is extremely unruly.

I would use it in the garden again but in a very isolated area. Fran

Tony November 26, 2011, 12:11 am

I can so relate to your Chasmanthium syndrome — from the perspective of my Ontario garden.

I’m experimenting this year with cutting off the seed heads before they proliferate. (Not something I enjoy doing but a line must be drawn,) This stratagem appears to have worked with Calamagrostis brachytricha — another grass that rivals sea oats for its invasive tendencies.

I’m sacrificing some winter interest but hopefully the grasses will survive the chop!

What a great idea! If you get good results from it, it will be worth it. Look forward to hearing how your experiment works! Fran

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