If you live anywhere near itchy plants, you probably know about nettle, poison oak, and poison ivy. However, there’s an even larger number of plants that you could consider to be bullies. These plants might look innocuous, but they will make it hard for other garden plants to grow. Avoid these bullies, and you’ll find that your garden is a happier place.
You probably know an invasive plant or two. Mint is a common one in garden beds. Given the freedom to roam, mint certainly will. That said, it’s also quite useful, so don’t panic about it spreading a little, as long as you like to drink mint tea. Using invasive plants in your kitchen is a good way to keep them from bullying your other plants. For me, blackberry bushes fall into this category as well. Yes, they want to take over the world. But they do have great fruit, and as long as you hack them down with a machete or some pruners every so often, you might be able to keep them in their place.
Then there are the invasive plants that have fewer redeeming qualities. Japanese knotweed has edible shoots, but it’s also very persistent, sprouting up from tiny bits of itself. The white variety of morning glory will happily twine itself up and around anything you grow in the garden, and it too grows from parts, so it’s very hard to remove. Ivy is persistent and difficult to remove, and its little rootlets hang on to fences and walls, slowly tearing them apart. Other potential bullies to watch include false lamium and purple loosestrife. Invasive plants are often sold as groundcovers, given their tendency to try and cover as much ground as possible. If you’re shopping for a groundcover, ask questions about its tendency to spread.
Plants That Don’t Play Nice
Some plants just don’t like other plants all that much. These plants are allelopathic, which means that they send out chemicals that discourage other plants from growing. Black walnut trees can impact the growth of other plants, particularly those in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes and potatoes. Blueberries also dislike walnuts. In the Pacific Northwest, the leaves of the abundant cedar tree discourage other plants from growing as well.
Other plants can also be bullies. Watch for areas of poor growth in your garden, and you may find the culprit! Just to confuse matters, some plants don’t mind living next to allelopathic plants, while others can’t tolerate it at all.
What can you do if you have a plant that doesn’t play nice? You might like the plant and it may even be useful. Just make sure that you place your vegetable garden far away from the plants in question, so your veggies will grow well. If it’s an invasive, take steps to remove it from your garden so it doesn’t take over.
Do you have bullies in your garden? What’s your approach to managing them?