Landscape Alternatives Philosophy
Invasive plants have been purposefully planted on the North American landscape, either historically or recently, because they have one or more characteristics that people see as valuable. Perhaps they grow very fast and produce good shade in a park or backyard. Perhaps they have unique foliage or beautiful spring flowers. Perhaps they make a crop of brightly colored fruit that stick around most of the winter, making the Midwestern winter garden a little less gray. Or, perhaps they grow in poor soil without a lot of irrigation or other attention.
Features in Common
In developing Landscape Alternatives for woody invasive plants, the WIGL Collaborative Landscape Alternatives Subcommittee kept many of the valuable aspects of the invasive plants in mind. The Subcommittee’s primary goal was to suggest alternatives that share one or more of the horticultural features that made the invasive plant appealing to begin with. However, it is important to recognize that even plant species that share several characteristics are not exact equivalents. All plant species, and sometimes even cultivated varieties (cultivars) within the same species, are highly unique and should be evaluated individually before being chosen for a particular location.
It was understandably very important to the Subcommittee that any species suggested not themselves be invasive or at risk of becoming invasive. For this reason, many of the landscape alternatives suggested are native to the Great Lakes Region or to the greater Midwest. A species that is historically native to the place in question cannot be invasive by definition, but we also avoided suggesting native species that are infamously weedy and aggressive. An important bonus attribute of native species is that they co-evolved with the region’s birds and wildlife and often contribute better food and habitat than non-native species can, even in urban areas. The committee did suggest some possible alternatives that are not native to North America. However, they are species that have been part of the developed landscape for a long time without showing any signs of invasiveness.
Available in Trade
The Subcommittee also made an effort to suggest species and cultivars that are available through commercial nurseries in the Midwest. Some of them may be most readily available through specialty nurseries or garden centers – for example, ones that focus on woody plants instead of annuals or herbaceous perennials, or that focus on native species. Virtually any plant species in production can be ordered online, but there are advantages of buying local, such as being able to see the plant you’re buying and having better access to local expertise on planting and plant care.
Reasonably Easy to Grow
The Landscape Alternatives Subcommittee, which included a considerable amount of horticultural expertise, aimed to avoid suggesting plants that are notoriously difficult to grow or that generally have a poor track-record in the Great Lakes climate. These would include plants that are minimally hardy in our region or that face serious and untreatable disease or pest concerns.
A Jumping Off Point
Successful gardening or landscaping is all about picking the right plant for the right place. What makes a good match is a combination of many things, including the amount of available light, the soil type, the amount of nutrients available in the soil, how well drained the site is, and the amount of acidity in the soil. The Subcommittee hopes the Landscape Alternatives suggestions provide a good jumping off point to help gardeners to research plants that might be a good fit for their spot.
The Importance of a Diverse Landscape
Although it doesn’t relate directly to invasive plant concerns, a good piece of advice is to look around your neighborhood and see what woody plants are most popular with your neighbors and in any nearby parks, and then plant something different. People seem to appreciate a certain level of aesthetic uniformity in the developed landscape, but by planting the same species or closely related species in large numbers, we leave our landscape very vulnerable to damage from pests and diseases.
Photo Credit: Anna Hesser under Creative Commons License via flickr.com