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Yard Restoration and the Battle to Remove Invasive and Non-native Plants

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

I often go outside to work in my yard with a plan of action yet end up doing something completely different. Recently, my idea was to take advantage of spring-like weather and get some of the dozens of potted native plants on my back deck into the ground. Yet I became fixated on the vibrant patch of Lenten rose plants along a corner fence under where our deck meets our home. Years ago, I had the right idea but wrong plants when I decided I was going to cover my yard in plants “for pollinators”. I had no clue about habitat gardening and native plants and just wanted more butterflies in my yard! I had lovingly added the Lenten rose to the little corner cleverly thinking they would form a colony in an out of the way spot.

Back when I planted this little corner with Lenten rose seedlings I hoped they would do exactly what they did and take over the area!

When I learned about native plants, I started the long process of removing the ornamental non-natives throughout my yard including huge patches of Lenten rose (native to Europe and Asia) that were deeply entrenched and difficult to dig out. I left the ones along the fence because they were in an awkward place where if I wasn’t careful, I would invariably hit my head on the bottom edges of the deck - something I did more often than I’ll admit! The plants loved the shady, slightly damp and sheltered spot. When I looked at them other day, the large, almost shiny leaves and exotic flowers look out of place in the natural, brown winter landscape of my yard. Most of the green you can see is from native plants just starting to come up, not plants finishing their blooming cycle. (Lenten rose also doesn't host any butterfly or moth species and blooms when pollinators can't take advantage of the blooms) Other than the native Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), the only other flowering winter plants are daffodils (native to Western Europe) and reticulated iris (native from Turkey to Iran). I planted hundreds of bulbs years ago and continue to strategically edit them out of my landscape.

The large patches of Lenten rose that once covered my yard would look weird now that it's naturescaped. . ..

The Lenten rose plants were growing under and around the fence. I carefully dug them all up. Just a few years ago, I would have given the plants away on a plant swap group where there are plenty of old school gardeners who still value non-native ornamentals. This time they went straight to an overflowing herby curby to join other invasive plants that randomly pop up in my yard. I’m not sure what’s below the surface of the bin because for a few years now I’ve been adding invasives and aggressive non-native plants to it to keep them isolated.

There is no "yard waste" that leaves my yard, but invasives and plants I don't trust get piled into a spare trash bin to ensure they don't "escape" into my yard.

What’s amazing is that I am diligent about removing invasives, yet a wide variety continue to appear.

I haven't had English ivy intentionally growing in my yard in almost two decades but little seedlings like this one pop up and need to be removed.

The list of how many invasive plants I’ve found on my .2 of an acre rewilded yard is amazing, and not in a good way. Not all non-natives are invasive, but all invasives are non-native that expand on their own and cause harm where they grow. I’m sure I’ve removed others, but the pernicious invasives popping up in my yard include English ivy, glossy and Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese wisteria, Japanese stilt grass, monkey grass, nandina, Japanese climbing fern (which I thought was an unusual find until I learned what it was!), vinca major and minor, porcelain berry, sweet autumn virginsbower, winter creeper, mimosa, and air potato. If I wasn’t on top of removing these opportunists when they’re still small, they would undoubtedly take over and destroy the healthy native plant communities I’ve worked hard to create. It’s so odd to realize many of these invasives covering natural areas are still sold at nurseries!

These are just some of the invasive plants that I've found in my rewilded yard.

I’ve written about Lenten rose being invasive in my yard because even though they aren’t on any list (yet!) they try to muscle out nearby natives and are almost impossible to truly get rid of. I didn’t make much headway with the native plant pots on my deck, but it felt sooo satisfying to dig the very last patch of Lenten rose from my yard even though I know the fight is not completely over.

There, I fixed it!

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25. März 2023

One thing that is rarely considered is that these are anthropogenic spaces. Therefore, what species are native and not isn't necessarily what matters. What matters the most is maximizing wildlife value. Some times non-native species are more beneficial than some native species for that goal.

For example, for yards with not a lot of open land area, Gomphocarpus physocarpus will outperform any native milkweed species when it comes to providing leaves for monarch caterpillars to eat, in climates where Gomphocarpus can have a long growing season. It won't, though, provide nectar that monarchs will use. (It does, though, feed native species like wasps and hummingbirds.) So, frostweed (a native species) is one tall nectar source that can complement the non-native…

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25. März 2023
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Also, when buying perennials/shrubs for pollinators, try to find those that aren't treated with neonics.

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