In the Garden | Plants you may grow to regret

Vinca major can be a fine groundcover, as long as the gardener realizes how it can smother other plants, such as this hosta on the left, and just keep on going unless it’s contained.

Most gardeners plant something they later regret, as it strides out attempting to take over our world. Garden thugs, they’re called. They look beautiful in compact little pots when purchased, have desirable characteristics like covering an area quickly and low maintenance. “Easy care!” proclaims the label.

Vinca major, beautiful Houttuynia with tricolor leaves of green, red and white; Creeping Jenny, lemon balm, lysmachia, mints of all types, bishops weed, English ivy. These look innocent until they show their unruly, out-of-bounds character.

Vigorous underground runners are what enables them to expand prodigiously, until roots are entwined with established shrubs, or pushed through seemingly impenetrable places like between bricks. Some also easily spread their seeds to neighbors and beyond.

Often called Chameleon or tricolor, Houttuynia cordata is a perennial that thrives in damp soil, in either a sunny or shady location, but with brighter coloring in sun. Colors include red, creamy white and green blotches. To contain it, provide a barrier 12 inches down into the soil and watch for stems growing over the barrier above ground. Better yet, enjoy its beauty in a container where it can’t go rampaging out in the greater outdoors.

Creeping Jenny or moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) forms a cute little light green mat of roundish leaves and yellow blooms. The compact plant is nice spilling over hanging baskets or other containers. Nice spilling over a wall also, but I know from experience how difficult it is to eliminate after its roots have spread and become entangled with nearby shrubs.

All the lysmachia plants are invaders. A nice cut flower, gooseneck loosestrife (L. clethroides) grows about 3 feet high and produces curved white flower heads similar in shape to an arched goose neck.

Lemon balm (Melissa officialis) seems like a great plant in your herb garden, since its lemon-scented leaves can flavor teas, salads and other dishes. Nice looking until it starts reseeding and sending out underground roots. Keep it in check by shearing to lessen viable seeds and grow in a large container.

All mints (Mentha) are invasive. Identify them by their square stems. If you hanker for mint leaves in your iced tea or drinks, grow it in a container rather than out in your herb garden or landscape.

Bishops weed (Aegopodium podagraria) makes a great low groundcover but becomes extremely difficult to contain once it gets going.

English ivy (Hedera helix) can climb every which way, smothering trees or whatever’s available. An established patch of ivy makes a welcome hangout for rats and mice. There are less invasive varieties of ivy that may be a better choice for your landscape.

So now you’ve had fair warning of some plants that sound enticing but you might later regret ever having met.


A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of four columnists featured.