Problematic Perennials You May Want to Avoid
They may have pretty flowers or interesting foliage, but these perennials also have some less-than-desirable qualities that may have you kicking yourself after they’re planted.
Before putting these perennials in the ground, you may want to know about the dark sides they conceal behind their gorgeous blooms or hardy exterior. The reality might be that all those pretty flowers result in massive amounts of seeds that spread relentlessly, or their resilience is only because they grow outrageously and tend to smother everything in their path. Containing these types of plants can be a full time job. Save yourself the frustration by avoiding these troublesome perennials and instead consider growing a look-alike that is much better behaved.
This perennial is an outlaw. Many states consider it a noxious weed because it edges out native species and takes over wetlands. Featuring distinctive purple flower spikes that stand upright, purple loosestrife blooms from the middle of summer through the fall. Despite its being banned in several states, it still is used in gardens by uninformed gardeners. So if your neighbor offers you a clump from their garden, this one should be a no. Then, kindly let them know about its invasive nature.
Alternative: Blazing star or native purple coneflower both provide an enduring pop of purple in flower beds.
An early spring bloomer, yellow alyssum or ‘basket-of-gold’ brings a welcome showing of color after a bleak winter. What’s not so welcome is their off-putting fragrance, or more directly stated their odor. If stinky flowers aren’t a deal-breaker for you, then this groundcover is actually a tidy pick — tolerant to drought, too.
Alternative: For an early color choice with a pleasant scent, try mini daffodils.
This plant is a charmer that you must resist. Unsuspecting gardeners are drawn in by its striking heart-shaped leaves splashed with yellow, pink, white and green, but enamour quickly turns to alarm once they realize this aggressive perennial is taking over their entire garden. Once the chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’) takes root, it’s almost impossible to clear out. Even herbicides aren’t effective.
Alternative: There are a variety of other attractive ground covers that behave well, including plants like oregano, barrenwort, or creeping thyme. None of these will give you a years-long hassle like chameleon plant will.
Because it has ‘sunflower’ in its name, people believe false sunflower will behave like true members of the sunflower family. Not true. This plant is aggressive and spreads via underground roots into sizable colonies of plants. Adjacent shrubs and perennials will be plowed over, making it difficult to extract the predator without harming the innocent plants it has overrun.
Alternative: For a similar looking flower that is pollinator-friendly, consider trying a perennial sunflower like ‘Maximillian.’ You’ll get all the benefits without having to deal with a plant that wants to take over the whole neighborhood.
Perennial Bachelor’s Button
If you go solely on its catalog description, perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea montana) sounds incredible: an easy-care plant with lots of flowers through the spring and summer. However, a simple conversation with anyone familiar with this plant will tell a different tale. Its hyper-reseeding nature is something to behold. All will be well for the first year, you’ll only have the one clump you planted. But the next year? Fifteen clumps. Take note: Perennial bachelor’s button is also known by other names, like cornflower, mountain blue, and basket flower. While the names sound pleasant, they are all bad news.
Alternative: Penstemon not only provides early summer color, but is also a pollinator favorite that is well-mannered.
Yes, lily-of-the-valley is a classic. Its dainty, white bell-shaped blooms are simply gorgeous in the early spring, and the sweet scent? Intoxicating. They’re even versatile and will do well in dry, shaded conditions where it’s difficult to grow plants. But all of these positives are eclipsed by lily-of-the-valley’s rampant spreading that chokes out all other surrounding plants. Once it starts, it’s relentless.
Alternative: Like lily-of-the-valley, ajuga also grows in shady areas, but unlike lily-of-the-valley, it will not dominate your entire garden. Ajuga does not have perfumed flowers, so keep that in mind if fragrance is important.