15 Popular Plants You Should Never Grow in Your Yard

Life's too short to have gardener's regret.

When you hear the phrase "invasive plants," you might think of a particularly vicious plant a la Little Shop of Horrors, but that's not really how these species work. Plants that are considered invasive tend to grow and reproduce when left unchecked in an area, essentially taking resources needed by other plants and squeezing them (and the animals that depend on them) out. They're also free from natural checks and balances like predators, disease, and other plants. From an ecological standpoint, invasive species tend not to support as much insect or bird life in the area.

"Often people are unaware of the fact that the plants that they're choosing are invasive," says Ulrich Lorimer, the director of horticulture at the Native Plant Trust. "Even with increases in laws restricting their sale, some nurseries still sell them."

It's a good idea to do research before planting new trees, bushes, or shrubs in your yard. Check with your state heritage program or with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which maintain lists of invasive plants, or check out the National Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Finder. Problematic varieties differ from state to state and region to region, so check out what's invasive in your area before you hit the garden center.

01 of 15

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja Davidii)

Butterfly bush cottage garden
Getty Images

You've probably seen plenty of butterfly bushes offered at your local nurseries or garden centers. But some butterfly bushes can become big nuisances in the environment. "Butterfly bush can be invasive and naturalize by self-seeding, particularly in areas where it does not go dormant in the winter," says Mary Phillips, Head of Garden for Wildlife™ and Certified Wildlife Habitat® for the National Wildlife Federation. "This can push out other desirable native plants that serve as a host plant for the full life cycle of butterflies. Butterfly bush is not a plant for butterfly caterpillars."

To avoid the issue, seek out new seedless cultivars, which will not spread into the environment, or opt for native azaleas, oakleaf hydrangeas, button bush, or another native shrub, Phillips says.

02 of 15

English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

English Ivy

Schon/Getty Images

If you've grown English ivy, you know why it's on this list. "This vine can kill trees that it climbs and damage structures by entering gutters, loose mortar, or aluminum siding," Phillips says. "It can smother vegetation of many native plants on the ground valuable to wildlife, especially spring ephemerals that support early season bees and other pollinators. And it also hosts bacterial leaf scorch, a disease problematic to some native trees and shrubs."

Instead of ivy, opt for native groundcover plants like wild strawberry (fragaria virginiana), Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia), wild stonecrop (sedum ternatum), common blue violet (viola sororia), or creeping phlox (phlox stolonifera), Phillips suggests.

03 of 15

Wisteria (Wisteria Sinensis or Wisteria Floribunda)

Wisteria Plant

Natalia Ganelin/Getty Images

These gorgeous vines look spectacular draped over an arbor or trellis, but they can quickly take over the space where they're planted. "Wisteria spreads rapidly, outcompetes other species, and can kill young trees," says Erin Moriarty, designer and team lead from online design company Tilly. There are native varieties, such as Kentucky wisteria (wisteria macrostachya) or American wisteria (wisteria frutescens) that will be easier to manage. Or opt for coral honeysuckle (lonicera sempervirens), which is a favorite of hummingbirds.

04 of 15

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica)

Japanese Honeysuckle

ANGHI/Getty Images

This fast-growing and fragrant plant should definitely be on your list of plants not to grow. Japanese honeysuckle been a popular garden pick for years, but it easily invades wild areas and outperforms native vines, Phillips says. Instead, look for native varieties like coral honeysuckle (lonicera sempervirens).

05 of 15

Periwinkle (Vinca)

Vinca Periwinkle Flower

Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

These pretty (and pretty popular!) flowers may seem like the perfect addition to a pollinator garden, but they're definitely plants not to grow. "Vinca needs very little to survive and forms a dense ground cover suppressing everything beneath," Moriarty says. "It doesn’t offer any value to wildlife and will overtake plants that local wildlife need to survive." Instead, consider ground cover plants that Philliips suggests, such as wild strawberry or creeping phlox.

06 of 15

Burning Bush (Euonymus)

Burning Bush

Euonymus/Getty Images

Known for its fiery red foliage, this bush makes a striking addition to a landscape. But you could be wreaking havoc with the local environment. "The seeds are dispersed by birds to woodlands and meadows where it will quickly form dense thickets and can out compete natives," Moriarty says. Instead, opt for native shrubs that work for your area.

07 of 15

Privet Hedges (Ligustrum)

Privet Hedge

Dennis Gross / EyeEm / Getty Images

Their dense growth makes them popular for creating a natural privacy screen in your yard, but it can also make them a nightmare for native plants. "Privet forms dense thickets that shade out native shrubs and perennials, overtaking them quickly, and depriving local wildlife of what it needs," Moriarty says. Instead, opt for native varieties of viburnum, which can help give you privacy but also help local wildlife.

08 of 15

Heavenly or Sacred Bamboo (Nandina)

Heavenly Bamboo

DigiPub/Getty Images

Once you get started with this plant, it can be hard to stop. "It colonizes by spreading underground root, which are extremely difficult and can be very costly to fully remove," Moriarty says. You can swap it out with strawberry bush (euonymus americanus), which has the same bold scarlet hues.

09 of 15

Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea Japonica)

Japanese Spiraea

Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

"This plant colonizes in disturbed areas, like construction areas—it’s any area where vegetation has been removed or disturbed," Moriarty says. "Spiraea grows rapidly and will quickly outcompete natives in meadows and forest clearings." There are native spiraea which you can plant instead, like steeplebush and meadowsweet.

10 of 15

Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias Currassavica)

Tropical Milkweed

Wirestock/Getty Images

Milkweed is known as a butterfly magnet, but this particular type has become naturalized and self-seeding in the warmer parts of the U.S. The big problem? Because they don't die off during the winter months like other species of milkweed, a parasite called ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) can build up on the plants, Phillips says. And studies have shown that adult monarchs with OE have a number of issues. "Studies indicated lower migration success, as well as reductions in body mass, lifespan, mating success, and flight ability," Phillips says. So skip this milkweed, and go for a more native variety instead.

11 of 15

Bradford Pear (Pyrus Calleryana)

Bradford Pear Tree in Bloom
Getty Images

A common tree you might see lining a street, this popular tree variety suffers from structural issues. Over time, the tree may weaken and fall apart, and it is especially vulnerable to damage from storms.

It also doesn't support as much insect or bird life as other options. If you're looking for an alternative, try a serviceberry or shadbush tree. They bloom around the same time and produce edible fruit. Ultimately, it's going to draw more life into your garden. Some states are even starting to ban selling these trees.

12 of 15

Japanese Barberry (Berberis Thunbergii)

Japanese Barberry Bushes in yard
Getty Images

Areas with lots of these popular trees tend to harbor larger tick populations. It's dense, thorny, and shrubby, so it provides unchecked areas for mice, which are a major vector for disease and more tick exposure for humans. An attractive alternative? Plant blueberry bushes instead.

13 of 15

Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus Orbiculatus)

Asiatic Bittersweet Vine With Red Berries
Getty Images

These varieties of bittersweet are banned for their ability to take over other plants and even trees. There is an American bittersweet variety, but it gets outcompeted by this introduced variety. If you're looking for an alternative vine, try trumpet honeysuckle or American wisteria. There are also native clematis species.

14 of 15

Linden Viburnum (Viburnum Dilatatum)

Viburnum Dilatatum, White Flowering Plant
Getty Images

Some types of introduced viburnum, such as linden viburnum, have made their way into natural areas. They outcompete other shrubs and reduce biodiversity because they don't have natural checks and balances in the area. However, there are several native varieties of viburnum, so ask for those when you visit a nursery. If these varieties grow into the woods, that's a good thing; some have fruit that birds love.

15 of 15

Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus Sinensis)

Ornamental Chinese Silver Grass / Miscanthus Sinensis
Getty Images

A very popular landscaping grass, you can still buy it in the nursery, but it's now beginning to take over natural meadows. As an alternative, try switchgrass or Indiangrass, which have all the same aesthetic qualities of miscanthus sinensis.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles