by Penny Pawl, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Oh no, I've done it again. I have fallen in love with a plant and its beautiful flowers. I planted it; it grew well and then I discovered that it is on the invasive plant list. What to do? And why is this plant on the list?
Many of the wonderful plants that I have planted over the years are on this list. How do authorities create this list? Some of those plants include pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata), mullein (Verbascum),butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), Watsonia and privet (Ligustrum spp).
Most gardeners are aware that bamboo is invasive. Years ago, my husband and I planted bamboo in a wine barrel. Because we knew it had a spreading habit, we set the barrel on cement blocks. A few months later we noticed that a stem had come out the bottom of the barrel and was inching its way across the soil toward our house. Bye bye, bamboo.
Scotch broom (Sarothamnus scoparius) is probably the most notorious problem plant. It has taken over entire areas of our state and moved up the coast into Washington. It is also a problem in many other states. I have read about groups going out to remove this plant from parks and other wild areas.
Scotch broom spreads by the root system. The roots have nitrogen-fixing bacteria so the plant grows all year. It also produces large amounts of seed. If left alone, it will take over and crowd out native plants.
Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) is native to the island of Madeira. I visited there a few years ago, saw the plant and fell in love with its tall purple spires. I planted one about two years ago. It has grown well and has not needed water or care. It bloomed this year, and the bees and other pollinators were in heaven.
Before I planted more, I decided to check its status. Alas, it is also on the California list of invasive plants. Each one of those little purple flowers produces lots of seeds which take root easily in our soils.
I do not plan to remove it, so I went out one evening as the flowers faded and before the seeds set, and cut it back. I did it at that time of day to avoid the bees and other insects. I will need to repeat this every year to keep pride of Madeira from becoming a pest in my garden and my neighbors' gardens.
A couple of years ago I snipped two pieces of honeysuckle (Lonicera) and rooted them. They are now in barrels growing up a big trellis. When I looked for more information on this plant, which is currently in full bloom, I discovered it, too, was considered invasive. Like pride of Madeira, it produces many seeds and pollinators love it. I have to trim it after flowering to keep the seeds from spreading. It also spreads when long runners touch the ground and take root.
The California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) list has been around for many years. If you are serious about preventing the spread of invasives, you should check the list before planting. You can find it on the Cal-IPC website along with photos to help with the identification.
Some of the plants in the weed category came in with New World settlers. The weeds were hitchhikers. Others such as Scotch broom were brought in because they grew so well in their native areas.
What do these plants all have in common? They are generally drought tolerant, and they produce massive amounts of seed. Birds love the seeds and spread them far and wide. Some invasive plants, such as wisteria, spread when their branches touch the ground and take root, or their root system moves around seeking water. When I trim the flowers of invasive plants, I don't put them in my compost. I put them in my brown yard-waste bin so they can be hot-composted by the city.
If, like me, you have a beautiful invasive plant growing in your garden, take care to keep it from taking over the whole garden. Otherwise, be safe and replace it with a native plant instead.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening or upcoming programs, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed but we are answering questions remotely and by email. Send your gardening questions to email@example.com or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143 and a Master Gardener will respond shortly./span>
Pat Hitchcock, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Weeds aren't the only troublesome invaders in many Napa Valley gardens. Several other plants, not usually thought of as weeds, can be equally problematic. These thugs are the larger plants, shrubs and trees that, if left undisturbed, can spread into native habitat and crowd out native species.
Cotoneaster is a shrub in the Rosaceae family that grows enthusiastically in my neighborhood. The New Sunset Western Garden Book describes its growth habit as fountain-like with “graceful, arching branches.” Its summer sprays of small white flowers become red-orange berries in fall. Robins, cedar waxwings and other birds love them.
While cotoneaster is native to Eurasia, most of the cultivated varieties originated in China. They were introduced in California before 1900 but have only been reported as invasive in the last 20 years or so. With help from birds, they self-seed abundantly and can supplant native toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) in natural areas.
Another problem plant is the Himalayan blackberry or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). Native to Armenia and Northern Iran, this plant was introduced to North America in 1885 as a fruit crop. It soon escaped into the wild and is considered invasive throughout temperate climates. While the berries are delicious, the plant is thorny and rambunctious. Canes can grow 30 feet long.
The plant propagates not only by seeds but also by “tip rooting” when the tip of the cane touches the ground and forms roots. If you ignore this plant for long, it creates a dense tangle of old brown growth and wicked, thorny green canes. It likes to grow among other shrubby plants, including the climbing roses and butterfly bushes (Buddleja) that screen my front bedroom windows from the street. Removing the blackberry vines that wander into that bed requires protective clothing as well as sharp pruners and a sturdy digging tool for prying out roots.
While the cotoneasters and blackberries probably invaded my property, another troublemaker—privet—was planted intentionally as a hedge. Three species of privet (Ligustrum spp.) are on the
California Invasive Plant Council's watch list, which means they have not yet been rated invasive in the state but are raising concerns. Those three are glossy privet, Japanese privet and California privet. Glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) is likely the one growing (and spreading) in my yard.
If kept trimmed, glossy privet makes a dense hedge. However, if left unclipped, it will reach tree height, bloom heavily in spring and produce a large crop of small black berries. The falling fruit can stain pavement and make a mess on parked cars. Birds attracted to the berries contribute to the mess and help spread the seeds, so new plants volunteer everywhere. After the fruit is gone, the fruiting clusters are unattractive. Sunset advises readers to consider the disadvantages of privet before planting it. I wish whoever planted it on my property had done so.
My property also has an abundant supply of ivy (Hedera helix, H.canariensis). Ivies are native to Eurasia and northern Africa but are now widespread. The California Invasive Plant Council lists ivy as being high in impact, invasiveness and distribution. I try not to let it climb into trees, and I pull it off the north side of the house, where it seems to like the micro climate. It infiltrated the overgrown hedges along the street and provided some screening where it grew densely on an old wire fence. I didn't think anything could kill ivy, although, after five years of drought, a small section in front of my house spontaneously died.
Once I was answering calls at the Master Gardener Help Desk when a client called to ask if we could help him figure out why his ivy had died. After doing some research, I was still stumped; this is a plant that does not succumb to pests or disease. I consulted a U.C. farm advisor specializing in weed science, and now we would both like to know why that ivy died. Finding an efficient way to control ivy in our forests and riparian areas would be a wonderful discovery. Meanwhile, in my yard, I whack it back from time to time in an effort to keep it from taking over.
All of these plants were brought to California intentionally because they had characteristics that seemed useful or attractive. Some of them are still sold in nurseries. But in our state's hospitable climate, the plants have escaped cultivation to become nuisances in wild areas as well as in some gardens.
For more information about invasive plants, check out the California Invasive Plant Council's website, CAL-IPC. The lesson here is to consider the unintended consequences of the things we do. After researching weeds for the past few weeks, I am vowing to be careful about the new plants I introduce into my garden.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will conduct a workshop on “Rose Pruning and More” on Sunday, January 22, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Learn 10 important facts about roses, rose pruning and rose care and maintenance. Registration is $12 per person, free to Yountville residents. Register with Yountville Parks & Recreation or call 707-944-8712.
Workshop: The Integrated Grape Team from the U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Home Vineyard 1” on Sunday, February 5, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at White Rock Vineyards, 1115 Loma Vista Drive, Napa. Learn what to do, what to look for and what to plan for in the vineyard between February and August. This is an outdoor lecture so dress accordingly. Registration is $5 per person.Online registration (credit card only) Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.