update: why won't this plant die? (also known as, weeds i planted that will outlive me)

IT’S PRETTY ENOUGH, and nice in arrangements, but all I really want to say about gooseneck loosestrife is: Why won’t this plant die? It’s another of the “confidence booster” (read: so easy as to be thuggish) perennials I started out with naively 20-something years ago here, and can’t get rid of. Add Lysimachia clethroides (above) to the list with chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) and comfrey and and and and … the depressing list of easy perennials weeds I planted, and will never be rid of. Some of the measures I have gone to trying to banish them are recounted here. (Bet it will sound familiar to some of you.)

  1. Deborah Banks says:

    I’ve managed to get rid of some invasives, like Artemesia The Pearl, bishops weed, and bindweed in some limited areas, due to eternal vigilence mostly, and the ability to dig up the entire infested area time and again to pick out the roots. However it seems to be impossible for me to get rid of campanula Cherry Bells and the gooseneck loosestrife, because they’re both in an area I can’t dig up like that, unless I sacrifice an old hydrangea paniculata and a lovely young maple tree. The campanula and gooseneck have both wound themselves through a big stand of various summer phlox varieties. I’m trying a policy of containment.

  2. Bridget Coyle says:

    Borage! What a pretty, happy, adorable and deceptive little darling. Had it stayed where I planted it and not spread ALL OVER my yar, I’d have probably loved it forever. But since I’m finding it everywhere but where I planted it now, not so much.

  3. Dahlink says:

    We grow the gooseneck loosestrife in an area with very heavy clay where little else will grow. It does escape into the grass from time to time, but the law mower keeps it in check.

    We used to have comfrey, so I know that it is great in the compost bin–one of those plants that speeds up decomposition. Try yanking it out and adding it to your compost. Ours is only a memory now because we added on to the house exactly where it used to grow!

  4. Mary says:

    This is my biggest blunder as a gardner.When I opened your email & saw those goosenecks all lined up…my heart sunk in hopes of an answer.When I first moved into our little seaside house my neighbor offered them to me for my garden. She actually turned out to be the worst neighbor one could have. Every year I am pulling them from areas I don’t know how they jumped to? In my roses, in my strawberry patch, mingled with my paradise ferns. When guests see them they remark on their charm ..like a gaggle of geese swaying in the gentle breeze. Could they have some they ask… No descent gardner would share these without the strict warning ……. INVASIVE!

  5. Melanie says:

    I was warned by a fellow browser at the garden center about my Mexican evening primrose, which has jumped out of the bed and infiltrated the lawn. I spend hours every weekend pulling it out and reducing it by half even in its bed. But its pretty pink heads every spring keep me from trying to eradicate it completely. The bigger problem is the bamboo i planted as a screen to my neighbor’s yard that was allegedly “slow-spreading cluster bamboo” and has made me the bane of everyone whose yard abuts mine! I’m having to build a trench and install a 3′ deep underground fence to contain its wandering ways!

  6. I’m afraid you all need gophers. Because of those devils I can’t grow Comfrey or anything else with a fleshy root without a (highly impractical) gopher wire cage around each and every one

  7. Janie says:

    I am so glad you posted about this! Someone I work with has some and she loves it. She wanted to pass the love on but keeps forgetting to bring me one! So glad she didn’t get it to me already. I will be declining her offer! I already accidentally ended up with Ground Elder aka Bishops Weed that is chocking out other plants.

  8. Mo says:

    I have been fighting with my gooseneck as well for years- my friend just planted it and it looks great right now – but I warned her !

  9. Jane in CT says:

    Gooseneck was in a corner when we bought our house, too. Thought it was cool until it marched across the garden like an invading army, nodding prettily as it conquered. Finally, late last fall–after letting it bloom and then cutting their heads off when spent–I waited for a rain-soaked opportunity. I dug up every one of them, sitting & squatting and following every root from the parent with my fingers before pulling the spider out. I sifted through the rain-softened soil for root fragments, which because of their pretty pink tint, are fairly easy to find. It took an afternoon, well into the evening with the outside lights on. None have raised their heads this year. While there were few other plants amongst their choking ways, I uprooted them, too, virtually bare-rooting them to find and pull the distinctive goose roots. They got replanted in the moist, now aerated, earth. Take heart, it can be done!

  10. Jennifer in Hudson Valley says:

    I’m so thankful for this column and all of the comments. I’m a neophyte gardener. I joined a local garden club for ideas and inspiration and was smitten with the gooseneck loosestrife everyone seemed to have in their garden. No one told me it was invasive!! I’ve been tempted by other “naughties” but I’ll pay heed. While visiting a friend in Scotland, her amazing garden included scattered Circumfuga racemosa or bugbane. I loved the tall, white, willowy flowers. I can’t seem to find it around here, it doesn’t seem to be very popular.

  11. Dahlink says:

    Jennifer in Hudson Valley, I also love Cimecifuga racemosa, and I have tried twice to grow it, but it did not do well for me. It always “burned out” to a crisp when the heat of summer hit. That may be why it doesn’t seem to be too popular here. Scotland’s climate is much cooler than ours.

  12. Marcia says:

    In agreement concerning gooseneck loosestrife and cherry bell campanula…dare I mention (rat-out) tansy and corydalis lutea? Not too fond anymore of obedient plant; it never minds when I say, “Stay!”

  13. Tina says:

    We have an annual plant sale near us; often some very pretty plants are 25cents each. Oh, dear – in the past I have actually purchased Old Gooseneck, variegated Bishop’s Weed, (“oh, the variegated won’t spread, dear” – HAH!), “Golden Glow”, comfrey (“so good for the chickens, dear”), but the absolute WORST mistake was my 25 cents worth of “elephant feet” which is what they called PETASITES JAPONICA! Holy Hannah. My husband finally tossed some over a bank that was loaded with burdock; yup, the Petasites won!! However, that is only a drop in the bucket that is the jungle of Petasites that crops up everywhere: sun, shade, wet, dry, cracks of the paved driveway…any advice on how to get rid of it other than chemically would be appreciated greatly.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Tina, and here’s the bad news: I have it too. Don’t know any way except aggressive digging and then chemicals (which I don’t do here, but friends have tried). If you want to use them, the key would be to first dig like mad, then let what’s left resprout, THEN paint on a concentrated glyphosate solution to the new growth that emerged. And repeat. And repeat.

  14. Anne Wareham says:

    O – sorry, Margaret, by the time I’d read the comments I’d forgotten that you’d named the Lysimachia clethroides and I was wanting it.

    Then – would you believe it, I refound the name, checked it out and remembered I had had it and it had vanished!

    It must respond differently in Wales. Aren’t we a perverse lot….?

    Thanks for your response.

    1. margaret says:

      That’s hilarious, Anne. Unimaginable that anyone could actually get rid of the plant! By the way, my favorite garden: Powis Castle. I have had a few good visits there, and the steep site with all those preposterous terraces always inspires me (as I garden on a hillside, somewhat less majestically!).

  15. robin says:

    Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    Jennifer in hudson valley – any good nursery shoulf carry Cimicifuga. It was recently renamed to Actaea racemosa, maybe that’s why you’re having a hard time finding it?

    Since it blooms in the late summer this is when nurseries tend to carry it. I planted ‘James Compton’ last year and it’s doing beautifully. I can’t wait to see it bloom. Just remember to give it some shade. If you do plant it in full sun, you]’ll need tp keep it very well watered ot it will scorch/

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Robin. The “Name Game” is hard to keep up with, isn’t it? Cimicifuga is indeed Actaea, but most gardeners stick to the older names. Confusing! Even catalogs has various “bugbanes,” including ‘Hillside Black Beauty” and plain racemosa and so on.

  16. Louise says:

    My own gooseneck loosestrife is at the front of the house. It is indeed invasive but I manage to keep it in check. The problem I have with it is to keep it watered enough. It’s in a very dry spot, sunny but too close to a big Norway maple. It wilts very easily and getting a hose to that part of the yard is really difficult. So I have a love-hate relationship with it. My MOST INVASIVE plant is petasites! I planted it years ago after reading your book A Way to Garden and I’m been battling with it ever since as it’s trying very hard to take over the whole backyard. The plants are stunning and I love them but i don’t think it was a good choice considering that I have a small yard. It’s popping all over and I don’t know what to do.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Louise. Sorry to hear about the Petasites. I dig it ruthlessly every spring and fall (sort of digging around the spot where I want it, like a trench or moat) and throw any dug-up parts in the trash, not compost. I have one big patch in the backyard bordering stones and the lawn on the other side. Interesting to hear about the Lysimachia wilting, etc. In a recent comment here I mentioned what friends have done to eradicate it, so scroll back a few comments.

  17. june says:

    BEWARE garden club and master gardener sales…there’s a reason why these folks have extra to sell! The most invasive stuff is sold there.
    I got a lovely whitish-green interesting leafed plant at a Master Gardener’s sale, but nobody said it would also be incredibly invasive, or grow over 8 feet tall!
    I wish I could remember the name of it.
    Hmmm..I love my gooseneck loosestrife when it’s flowering, but spent part of yesterday cutting all the dead flowers off and trying to rein it in. I planted it in front of the mailbox along with obedient plant and both have taken off.
    Despite all the road salt and sand each winter, they come back!
    But now the loosestrife has invaded the nearby flower bed and I’m having such a hard time pulling it out. I guess I have dig the whole thing up and pull out as much as possible this fall.

  18. I inherited Bishop’s Weed. A thorough dig followed by a year of black plastic only increased its vigor. I have learned to accept it as part of my design although I did hear that planting one thug to beat another works … in this case, Anemone canadensis which is native to my area and something I might try.

  19. Diane Gossett says:

    Dear Margaret- Thank you for bringing up the gooseneck loosestrife. I was happy to get it from a friend and planted it in two corners of the yard as a ‘filler in’. Fill in it did and now I sometimes feel like the madwoman equivalent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining as I dig it up, pull it out and do whatever I can to get rid of it. If I keep it watered it will burn beautiful shades of yellow, light greens and reds in the fall. Now I want to plant a tree where it is growing and I’m fearful the roots will kill the tree, but I will try digging it out anyway and just see what happens. Love your site!!

  20. brokenbarnindustries says:

    We dug a iittle bed far away from everything else and planted it with gooseneck, artemesia absinthium and another variety of lysicmachea. We call it the War Zone. So far, all three are thriving, none having choked out the other. For science!

    1. margaret says:

      That’s hilarious, BrokenBarn; “The War Zone.” I have some such areas, too. I will now rename them and laugh rather than curse at them, thanks to you!

  21. Dahlink says:

    Yes, we also have an area that approaches a war zone–it’s very dry and has heavy clay soil. We have gooseneck loosestrife on either side, and the central area is planted with Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae (Mrs. Robb’s bonnet). I think that latter would survive nuclear war and continue to thrive.

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