Invasive Plant Alternatives

Use these plant substitutes for those popular but invasive plants species

What is an Invasive Plant?

When a plant is labeled invasive, it means that the plant has been determined to spread aggressively to the detriment of the environment in which it is planted. Often invasive plants are non-native species that lack natural predators to keep them in check or are just able to out-compete native species. This often becomes an issue because the plants are able to grow out of control and often form large masses of only the invasive species. This reduces habitat and food sources for native species of animals, birds, pollinators, and insects. Invasive species are often some of our worst weeds and can become maintenance nightmares for homeowners, think Canada thistle or nutsedge. Not all invasive plants are ‘weedy’. Sometimes ornamental species with very showy flowers or leaf color are introduced and grown for the nursery trade and unfortunately turn out to be invasive.

Like Maiden Grass?

Once a very popular ornamental grass, Japanese Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) has been found to spread aggressively in Pennsylvania natural areas via its seed.

Use THIS instead

Panicium virgatum ‘Northwind’

Panicium is a North American native tall grass. It likes both wet and dry soils in full sun. It is a stiff, columnar grass with its seed panicles able to reach up to 6ft tall. Other varieties of Panicium to try include ‘Heavy Metal’ which has a bluish tinge and ‘Shenandoah’ which has a reddish tinge to its blade tips.

Like Crimson Barberry?

Loved by homeowners for its red leaf color, this non-native shrub is now invading our native PA forests and has recently been banned for use in Pennsylvania. Plus it has thorns! I mean who really wants to deal with finger-pricking thorns every time it needs to be pruned?

Use THIS Instead

Weigela florida ‘Spilled Wine’

While Weigela is not a native alternative, it is not known to be an aggressive spreader. Weigela ‘Spilled Wine’ has a dark reddish leaf color that is reminiscent of barberry. It is a petite shrub only growing 2 feet high by 2-3 feet wide and is covered with bright pink, tubular flowers in the spring. Other varieties to try include ‘Wine & Roses’ which is a large-sized shrub and ‘Sonic Bloom’ which re-blooms throughout the season up until frost (but lacks the red leaf color).

OR You Can Also Try

Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’

Clethra is a native shrub that has fragrant blooms in late summer. It flowers even in shade conditions and can take average to wet soils. Hummingbird is a compact-sized version (2-4 feet high by 3-4 feet wide) with showy white flowers that attract butterflies. Variety ‘Ruby Spice’ is a larger shrub with pinkish-red, fragrant flowers.

Like Burning Bush?

This shrub is famous for its flaming red fall color, but there is nothing pretty about how it is spreading in our native woodlands. Other downsides of this shrub include that it really has only one short season of interest and often gets way too big for where most homeowners plant it.

Use THIS Instead

Hydrangea quercifolia

Native Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ has amazing fall color. It also has large showy flowers that persist throughout the summer season into the fall and attractive exfoliating bark. While the variety Alice can get rather large (up to 8 feet tall), smaller varieties such as ‘Ruby Slippers’ or ‘Munchkin’ allow for use in smaller-scale gardens

OR You Can Also Try

Physocarpus ‘Coppertina’

Another native shrub, Physocarpus ‘Coppertina’ may not have significant fall color, but it does have beautiful burgundy colored foliage the rest of the time, plus large white flowers in the late spring. ‘Coppertina’ is also a large-scaled shrub (up to 8 feet tall) but other varieties to try include ‘Ginger Wine’ and ‘Summer Wine’ which have a slightly more compact growth habit (5-6 feet tall.)