Grow Your Own – January 2014

Most gardeners like all kinds of plants, and many try to place “one of each” variety in their garden, if there’s enough room. Never mind that this approach goes against the concept of proper landscape planning. Sometimes it even supports introducing invasives, those plants that can become big nuisances over time. The worst thing about invasives is that while you might be willing to put up with their aggressiveness in your own yard, they can spread to natural habitats, crowding out both the native plants and the animals that depend on them for food and shelter.
When it comes to selecting plants for your garden, it pays to know the botanical name to ensure you’re not introducing an invasive you may later wish you hadn’t. Botanical names are recognized world-wide and are usually italicized. While common plant names are easier to remember, they may vary from country to country, or even region to region.
Do you have nandina, Mexican petunia, lantana, or mimosa in your yard? Did you know that many varieties of these popular plants are considered invasive?
Nandina domestica is one of those old-fashioned plants that are standard in many southern gardens. Keep in mind that it’s also called “heavenly bamboo.” Many people would never risk planting bamboo in their yard. If you have this invasive and don’t want to eradicate it, cut off the berries to prevent the birds from spreading it beyond your span of control.
Mexican petunia, or Ruellia tweediana, spreads like wildfire via underground runners and seed. Ruellia simplex, or “purple showers,” is a sterile variety that is a much better choice for your garden. Many garden centers sell Ruellia, so you may want to check the tag to ensure you’re purchasing the non-invasive variety.
How about lantana? This is the darling of drought-resistant, ever-blooming Florida landscape plants. While not all lantana is considered invasive, Lantana camara (the larger variety with lots of seeds) is extremely so.
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) is one of those dainty little trees with lovely pink blooms that take our breath away. If it makes its way into a native habitat, the results can be disastrous.
Have you heard of the air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)? This vine, with its large heart-shaped leaves, produces “potatoes” (seed pods) in the winter. If left in the landscape, these potatoes produce many, many more vines that spread like kudzu (another southern invasive you may be familiar with). Many localities hold “air potato round-ups” in February to try to prevent the spread of this noxious weed. Recently I visited a garden where the owner recruited youth from his church to help with the round-up in his yard. He paid a monetary “bounty” for specific numbers of potatoes gathered.
Torpedo Grass (Panicum repens) is a real nuisance if it appears in your lawn. It spreads underground and blends in with your St. Augustine or other turf grass so cleverly that it is a first-class problem before you realize it. I have a neighbor who battled this bad boy chemically for months with no luck. He finally burned his entire lawn to kill it, and was successful on his third re-sodding effort.
Here are some other invasives you may wish to avoid: Coral Ardesia (Ardisia crenata), Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum), Chinese Tallow (Sapium sebiferum), Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), Cogon Grass (Imperata cylindrica), and a nasty aquatic invasive, Hydrillia (Hydrilla verticillata). At first glance these species all look very innocent, often enticing us with their lovely leaves, flowers, or berries. Don’t fall for it – if you let them in, they will take over!
Check the following site for some useful information and photos of some of the most common invasives in Florida: Another helpful site has links to all the “prohibited” and “not recommended” plants, where you scan the northeast Florida list for noxious plants found in our area:
Invasive plants are to be avoided – – please don’t “grow your own!”