If I Had to Do It Over Again

If I had it to do over again:

I was a pioneer in 1998 when I began to plant my prairie gardens in my small- 50’ x 120’- city corner  lot,.  My gardens are mostly all  linear , arranged  on both sides of the public sidewalks, along the edge and side of my back yard and along the perimeter of my house and garage.   The only exception is my island garden in the center of my back yard on the other side of the garage.

My gardens are bountiful beyond measure and I enjoy them every single day. They attract a myriad of bees and butterflies, and to a lesser extent, birds.  Their deep root systems infiltrate rain water deep into the earth and the shallow aquifer.  And it says “Midwest” rather than England or East Coast.

But there are a few plants that are far too aggressive for the small garden.

Here’s my list:

Any of the Woodland Sunflowers:  Helianthus divaricatus, H. strumosus, and H. hirsutus).  

I planted H. strumosus and while it mingled  beautifully with Joe Pye Weed in my savanna garden for several years, one year it went viral, eating up everything in its path, including an American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).  Even worse, I planted it in savanna gardens of a few clients and it is  a dreadful problem there, as well.

These three silphium, relatives of sunflowers: Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium),  Cup Plant (S. perfoliatum), and Compass Plant (S. laciniatum).

I love these plants and love to tell their stories, especially to children, but they spread vigorously and are far too aggressive for small home gardens.

Rosin Weed 4

Only growing 2-3’ tall in the crowded prairie, Rosin Weed grows over my head in my gardens.  It has fibrous roots that form colonies from short rhizomes.  it also increases by seed.

compass plant leaves

Compass Plant  does indeed act as a compass–its leaves tend to pointnorth and south.   The flowers, like sunflowers, follow the sun, facing east and west.  It has a deep central taproot 8-15’ deep, but it also has shallow rhizomes that allow it to establish colonies.  That is what has happened here.  The leaves have since collapsed and it has only produced one flowering stalk.  It’s no longer attractive or interesting, but perhaps the clonal growth can be moved or just simply pulled out.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

cup plant 2

One year,  Cup Plant just showed up in my yard.  A seed must have hitch-hiked its way to my garden via another plant that I had purchased.  Again, it’s an attractive and interesting plant, but too aggressive for the small home garden.  It has spreading fibrous roots that form colonies and, in addition, it seeds itself with abandon.  I find dozens of new plants throughout my gardens every year that I have to dig up.


prairie dock shap

My favorite, Prairie Dock, (S. terebinthinaceum) is less aggressive and I do recommend that everyone plant one of these as a focal point or specimen.

Indian Grass front yard

Tall grasses:  Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi ), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum).  All of these grasses add so much grace and beauty to a garden, but then they pop up everywhere, crowding out other less aggressive plants.

Here are a few more aggressive plants,  but I wouldn’t be without them.

Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) in nature is found in dry prairies, sand prairies, and gravelly hill prairies.   Put it in mesic or garden soil and it kicks up its heels, shouts “Hooray” and takes over.  Knowing its characteristics, I didn’t plant it into my garden until the other plants were mature,  but it just laughed and took over anyway.  It blooms at the same time as Butterfly Weed and Pale Purple Coneflower, creating an exquisite combination.

coreopsis front sidewalk

Stiff Coreopsis becomes a solid patch in my garden.


Coreopsis HH

In Horlock Hill Prairie, it has  lots of competition.

joe pye savanna

I planted Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) all along my back lot line where it makes a superb privacy hedge.  It now, however, has joyfully seeded itself in every bed in my yard.

joe pye and cup plant by porch 2

Sometimes in just the right place, here with self sown Cup Plant next to my house.

joe pye & virgin's bower through window

Or here where it peeks into a window.  My east-facing studio window frames Joe Pye Weed along with Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana).

black swallowtail horizontal

Or is this worth having a lot of self-seeded Joe Pye Weed around?

Do you have native plants you wished you hadn’t planted?













































































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20 Responses to If I Had to Do It Over Again

  1. Monica August 27, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    I had to laugh at this post because I have seen exactly the same thing happen with exactly these plants, as well as the phenomenon of a plant behaving for years and then suddenly deciding–because of some chemical or climatic or other condition hidden to us observers-to go crazy and take over a small garden. I would add Northern River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), a lovely but potentially aggressive grass, to the list. And Wild Golden Glow (Rudbeckia laciniata).

    • Pat Hill August 27, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      I would agree with those, as well, Monica

  2. sue August 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I agree, my problem plant is Moonseed Vine, Menispermum canadense. I was pleased to ID it in my yard several years ago as it has a rating of 6. It has completely covered my backyard woods. It apparently thrives on fire. I had a lovely collection of native woodland plants and it has overtaken all of them.

    Regarding your aggressive prairie plants, I’m looking for mesic forbes for Jelke and Raceway Woods. I’ll take whatever you don”t want, seed or plants.

    • Pat Hill August 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      More than happy to give you seeds or plants, Sue–have lots to give away. I, too, have Moonseed vine, but, so far, it hasn’t destroyed anything. I’ll keep my eye on it. I also have Cariron Flower vine (Smilax ecirrhata), which I love.

  3. Steve August 27, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    The Tall, or Canadian, Goldenrod is aggressive despite there being other excellent options (Stiff goldenrod, Showy goldenrod). Oxeye Sunflower was the toughest for me to eradicate.
    As for the Compass Plant, it didn’t flower for many people this year. Apparently the cold soil early in the season disrupted its cycle.

    • Pat Hill August 27, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      I didn’t know that about the Compass Plant–I thought mine was too crowded to produce flowers. As for your complaints about Tall and Canadian Goldenrod and Oxeye Sunflower, I can’t disagree. The Tall Goldenrod is easy to pull out, although it always seems to came back the next year. And I really like Oxeye Daisy when it’s in bloom, but getting rid of it later does seem to be impossible.

  4. Suzanne Massion August 27, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Such an interesting and humorous post, Pat. Now I can fess up. I was so thrilled 20 years ago when we seeded our road front prairie and the first grasses appeared. Oh boy! Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). What a romantic name! There is a virtual sea of it out there now. It’s quite a sight blowing in the autumn winds and I’ve used the effect in lots of my landscapes, but enough is enough. Pat, do you know if our yearly burn encourages grasses more than the flowering plants?

    • John Schultz August 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

      What about the burn adage “Fall favors forbs?” Or do things not dry out around here soon enough for that.

  5. John Schultz August 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Well, apparently I’ve planted a lot of these that I will regret later. So, do things ever balance out? What about other plants that appear with the aggressive ones in the wild?

    • PatHill August 29, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Good questions, John. I’ll address these next week in my blog–stay tuned.

  6. Sharon Sutton August 31, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    How about purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophularifolia) and bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula)? While the former is indeed a magnet for hummers and goldfinches particularly, I pulled them up by the hundreds this spring, their first in my yard. And the bottlebrush grass is everywhere! I have seeds for anyone who is brave enough to battle this plant forevermore.

    • Pat Hill August 31, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      I have both of these plants, Sharon, and neither one has ever become a problem for me. They both self-seed, but not aggressively. Go figure,

  7. Suzanne Massion August 31, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    Pat, I think it looks beautiful, but the view to the north of our house is like a snow covered alpine valley. The White Snake Root is “profuse” this year. Don’t think I’m worried yet. I also see Purple Joe Pye-Weed, Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Bergamont, and other stuff out there.

    • Pat Hill August 31, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      White Snake root can become profuse. Mine disappeared completely for a while, but now it’s back–not overwhelmingly, though. At least, not now.

  8. Patty August 31, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Almost interesting blog this week. Loved seeing all the replies and your responses, Pat.

  9. Trish Beckjord September 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    What a great post and responses! This is certainly one of the issues with trying to use natives in a residential garden. I would add Rudbeckia triloba, Brown-eyed Susan and Zizea aptera, Golden Alexanders. I planted the Rudbeckia along my back fence where it looks great but this year I had a mass of seedlings in my front garden as well! I never thought I’d pull a native but I finally have. While I haven’t experienced the Zizia re-seeding everywhere I have heard enough about it that I cut off the seedheads before they ripen — along with my Joe-Pye! Two others that I won’t give up but that I’ve found also reseed readily are Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Aster) and Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem). On the other hand, some that seem to behave themselves for me include Dalea purpurea (Purple Prairie Clover), Heuchera richardsonii (Prairie Alumroot), Oligoneuron album(Prairie Goldenrod), Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower), and Euphorbia corollata (Flowering Spurge or Prairie Baby’s Breath). Hope you will blog about these too! Oh, and Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii) also seems to like to seed about… Thanks for this post!

  10. Joan Kramer September 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    I’ve had a love/ hate relationship with Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern sea oats). I love the way it looks so graceful and changes color in the fall but I hate the way it keeps spreading around. Each year I tried to cut the seed heads off but it just kept moving. This year I herbicided it all and planted other natives. It’s still trying to come back so I’ll keep my eye on it. Great post, Pat!

  11. Paula Wager September 5, 2014 at 1:10 am #

    Dear Pat,

    This past Spring I planted a native garden using the “sunrise” garden plants you had in your book. I was able to get all the plants except the Switch grass “Dallas blues”. Based on this article, would you still recommend planting the switch grass? If you wouldn’t recommend the “Dallas blues” do you have another suggestion to fit into your original design?

    • Pat Hill September 7, 2014 at 4:13 am #

      Yes, I would go with Little Bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium), instead. It will seed itself about some, but it is not as aggressive, is much shorter, and won’t hide the forbs.

      I don’t believe that I mentioned that it’s a good idea to cut back the Smooth Blue Aster and New England Aster by half around the 4th of July. That will cause ithem to fill out more and not be as tall.

  12. Jack Shouba September 22, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    It probably depends on specific characteristics of a site which native plants become aggressive. At one prairie restoration I was involved with we purposely kept the amount to big bluestem to a bare minimum, but looking at the site a few years later I think we should not have included any of it.

    At home I have tried for several years to get rid of appendaged waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) but it keeps showing up. Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) and sweet (or purple) Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) are completely out of control. Prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata) is gradually taking over an alkaline marsh/fen area.

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