Garden Thugs: 10 plants you may regret planting

September 2, 2016

Walking into a nursery or flipping through garden books we become enamored with picture perfect flowers, colorful foliage and claims to solve our garden problems. Beware however, because lurking among these beauties are some real garden thugs. Just like English ivy, bamboo or that innocent looking patch of bluebells in your yard, these plants should come with warning labels.

What makes a plant a garden thug?

This can vary depending on the soil type, culture, garden location and personal opinion. Given the right conditions these aggressive beasts are experts at reproducing, frequently at the cost of other plants in the garden, making them difficult to control and eradicate once they take hold.

Ten garden thugs you may regret planting:

#10- Poppies (Papaver): Poppies reseed freely in the garden.  If you can’t live without them be sure to cut off seed pods before they turn brown.



#9- Windflower (Anemone) – Spreading by seed and rhizomes underground.  Divide regularly and deadhead to keep it in bounds.


#8- Periwinkle (Vinca): As it creeps along the ground it roots at every leaf along the stem. Vinca minor is less aggressive than Vinca major but why not try a blue flowering Campanula groundcover instead.


#7- St. John’s Wort (Hypericum): Spreading rapidly by underground rhizomes, above ground creeping stems, and by seed forming a dense ground cover. Tolerant of a wide range of conditions makes this ground cover even more challenging to manage.

St. John’s Wort


#6- Lily of the Valley (Convolaria)- Spreading underground and by seed. Containerize it for cut flowers or try dwarf Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum humile) as an alternative groundcover.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley

#5- Mexican feather grass (Nassella) – This rampant re-seeder has become invasive along the California coast.  A great alternative is Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia)

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican Feather Grass

#4-Deadnettle (Lamium): Related to mint it will colonize your garden in the same way.  Instead try a silver leaf brunnera or pulmonaria for a spot of silver in a shady garden.


#3- Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia)- Roots along the stem and creeps underground.  Will also root and grow from a small piece broken off from the plant. Please save this one for containers away from garden beds.

Creeping Jenny

#2- Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia): Once the roots take hold there is no going back.  If  the tricolor foliage is what your drawn to try  Tricolor Hebe or Sedum for a pop of pink and white.

Chameleon Plant

#1- Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium): Nearly impossible, even with chemicals, to remove once established. Alternatives include variegated Pachysandra for a spot of brightness in the shade or Epimedium for a soft billowing effect.

Bishops Weed

Bishop’s Weed


If you do utilize aggressive plants in your garden design be sure to take precautions to keep them inbound and out of your neighbors yards and local greenbelts.   Restrict spread of aggressive rooting plants by using barriers like containers or concrete planters. Reduce spread of  plants that readily reseed by trimming off all flowers before they go to seed.

In many cases it’s just a matter of figuring out a design alternative that fits the same criteria but is lower maintenance. It is no coincidence that a lot of garden thugs are ground covers because for a ground cover to perform well it needs to have some thug tendencies but the good ones are easy to manage the true thugs are not. There are lots of options for groundcovers and other interesting plants that won’t take over your garden.

What thug plagues your garden?

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