Native Plant Alternatives to Invasive Species Like Honeysuckle, Privet, Tallow, and Wisteria

Many popular landscape plants seem harmless but are actually invasive plants that are moving into the surrounding areas and crowding out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.
Most of these popular invasive species have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior!
Listed below are some commonly planted invasive plant species with some alternatives.
Chinese Tallow Tree (Popcorn Tree) is prized for its fall color, but is one of the worst invaders into our forests because of the rapidly dispersed seed. It is a lovely tree, but consider these alternatives:
Sassafras – a native small tree with beautiful fall color and large unusually-shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.
Serviceberry – another native tree noted for its spring flowers and fall color with the addition of beautiful berries which are food for the birds.
Fothergilla – yet another native American tree/small shrub with showy, sweet-scented, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and excellent fall foliage in shades of orange, red, and burgundy.
Viburnum – there are many varieties, both native and non-native, that are lovely, consisting of beautiful, showy blooms and many also have berries in shades of white, blue, pink, and red that provide wildlife food, and some ending up with beautiful fall foliage, while others are evergreen—yet they are never invasive!
Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley!
Chinese Privet is a highly invasive species that is all over the South! The plant is rapidly spread by birds who eat the small dark berries. Privet is very difficult to eradicate, since it’s still sold and planted in enormous proportions. It can be found in almost every landscape. In my opinion, it isn’t even very pretty, and I don’t know why people plant it, unless it’s because it’s evergreen. There are certainly many superior alternatives to this pest. I could go on an on with a list, but any fine, textured evergreen would be better. Here are just a few suggestions:
Boxwood is much slower-growing, which is an asset, since Privet must be pruned every few weeks to keep it tidy. Boxwood is available in dwarf sizes and variegated forms, making it unnecessary to ever plant privet.
Hollies are excellent with dark green glossy leaves and beautiful berries in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Dwarf yaupon holly is a native holly with small leaves giving a fine-textured appearance.
Yew is a lovely evergreen plant that is available in a variety of forms.
Viburnums are available in small-leaved varieties such as Davidii, Compactum, or Sandankwa.
Itea, Virginia Sweetspire, is a lovely shrub available in large or dwarf-growing sizes. Sweetspire has fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring and one of the showest fall color displays of any shrub, native or not!
Japanese Honeysuckle appeals to many gardeners due to its fast-growing habit and its sweetly scented blooms, but the fact that it’s fast-growing is what has caused it to take over the South! Japanese Honeysuckle is one of the most common nuisance plants, yet it is still sold in garden centers everywhere!
American Native Honeysuckle, shown in the photo above, is one of the best hummingbird magnets I know of, with its large red tubular flowers that come year round in my garden. (There were a few blooms on mine even in January here in West Central Georgia!)

Confederate Jasmine (Star Jasmine) is an evergreen vine with sweetly-scented white star-shaped flowers.
Lady Banks Rose comes in 2 colors—white blooming which is very fragrant, and yellow blooming which is not. Both varieties thrive with neglect, and the largest, oldest rose bush in the country is a white Lady Banks Rose growing in Tombstone, Arizona! That should give you an idea of how easy it is to grow. That bush is over 100 years old!
American wisteria, yes, I did say wisteria!!, is a native vine that is just as beautiful as the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, but is not invasive at all. The blooms are very fragrant. You might see it sold as Amethyst Falls wisteria, but don’t be afraid to plant it. Avoid Chinese and Japanese wisteria, because I can show you how it’s taking over much forestland in Alabama and Georgia, strangling and pulling down trees, much like kudzu.
Clematis is available in many varieties, both native and non-native species.
Passionvine is another native perennial vine with very showy, large purple flowers and attractive, edible fruits. This vine will self-sow, but never crowds out its neighbors.
I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and plant native plants instead of invasive exotics. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

Plant of the Week November 4, 2007

Itea Virginica is an American Native Plant that is spectacular in all seasons! Spring brings fragrant blooms that attract pollinators, summer produces lovely leaf and stem texture with some burgundy red colorations, and fall sets the plant on fire with brilliant red to burgundy foliage that can be seen from great distances. In winter, Itea is evergreen in most climates, but if it does lose most of its leaves, the burgundy stems are very attractive as well. Itea is available in both larger growing and dwarf varieties, so it can fit in any garden! 'Merlot' is a very nice compact form, while 'Henry's Garnet' is great if you have the space for a larger growing shrub. Whichever you choose, you'll be adding a spectacular feature to your garden with Itea Virginica. For more information on this plant, go to

Dry Soil Groundcovers: Pachysandra, Rudbeckia, and Many More!

I love groundcovers. There’s just something about them that makes me want to have every one I see. Groundcovers can be an important addition to our Southern gardens. They act as a living mulch, helping to conserve moisture around trees and shrubs. Many groundcovers are evergreen, so they add beauty to the garden in every season. There are groundcovers that bloom, and even groundcovers that make berries! Groundcovers can be found that thrive in sun, shade, and even the most difficult dry shade. Whether your taste for plants leans toward the exotic, like Hellebores and Rohdea, or if you prefer native plants, such as native ferns, consider adding them beneath the shrubs in your garden. There are many native groundcovers that are evergreen, and some even produce berries, like Mitchella (Partridgeberry). Groundcovers like creeping phlox can help control erosion. Good groundcovers for sun include the sedums, ice plant, and rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan.) Certain rose varieties also make excellent groundcovers. Beware of groundcovers that can take over the garden, seeming to eat other plants alive, crowding out everything else. Instead of invasive English Ivy or the popular Japanese pachysandra, try our native pachysandra, Allegheny Spurge. Or if it’s a vine you’re after, plant Crossvine, Carolina Jasmine, or Lonicera sempervirens—all native vines that will not overtake your garden.

Recycle Gray Water for Garden Plants

As drought continues to cause heartache for all of us gardeners, we must rethink our gardening practices and use more extreme measures to save our plants. Homeowners waste an average of 33% of good drinking water, according to the UGA Cooperative Extension Service School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Most of this waste is done through diluting toilet water, little-used sink and shower water, and laundry and kitchen use. In this time of water shortage, recycling slightly used ‘gray water’ to water our landscape plants makes good sense. Gray water is water that can be used twice. Safe sources for this gray water include bath water, laundry water, and sink water from bathroom and kitchen sinks. (Water from toilets and swimming pools cannot be reused.) Yes, using gray water is more time-consuming, especially if you must do it by hand. But if it will keep a prized plant alive, it’s worth the effort. If you’re considering installing a collection system for recycling gray water, you can find complete installation instructions on the UGACAES website along with usage suggestions for the gray water. It is of great concern that we do not know how long the drought will continue or how serious our water shortage will become. Please do your part to preserve one of our most precious natural resources by using water conservatively. Native plants are the best choice for gardens in a changing climate. And remember to pray for rain!
More information can be found at