6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials to Never Plant in Your Garden

Steer clear of these pretty (but pesky) perennials and fill your garden with these look-alike alternatives instead.

In my garden, I have a few of what I call perennial troublemakers. They're the ones that turned out to have a dark side lurking beyond the promises of prolific summer blooms or the ability to tolerate the harshest heat and drought without missing a beat. In truth, their nonstop flowers result in tons of seeds that go everywhere, or their toughness is actually thanks to rampant growth that threatens to smother every living thing in a 10-foot radius. It feels like an endless struggle to keep them contained, leaving me wondering why I ever planted them in the first place. Save yourself from all these frustrations by banning these problematic perennials from your garden. Plus, I've got suggestions for much better-behaved look-alikes you can grow instead.

01 of 06


Lily of the valley perennial

Evgeniya Vlasova / BHG

Yeah, I know, this one is a classic garden plant beloved for its perfume-rich, white bell-like flowers in early spring and ability to thrive in dry shade where not much else will grow. But I've come to really dislike lily-of-the-valley because, a year or two after planting, it starts to spread like wild, choking out nearby plants. Once it's established, reining in this aggressive spreader requires relentless vigilance.

Plant This Instead: Though its flowers aren't fragrant, ajuga also can grow in shady spots similar to lily-of-the-valley, but won't take over the garden.

02 of 06

Perennial Bachelor's Button

perennial bachelor's button in garden
Kritsada Panichgul

A catalog description focused on a parade of spring and summer flowers and easy care can beguile those who have never grown perennial bachelor's button (Centauria spp). But ask anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of growing this plant and you'll get an earful about its hyper-reseeding nature. The first year you'll have one clump of it and the next year your garden is inundated with 15 clumps. Beware, perennial bachelor's button also goes by names like mountain bluet, corn flower, and basket flower, but all are bad news.

Plant This Instead: For early summer color, plant well-behaved, pollinator favorite penstemon instead of perennial bachelor's button.

03 of 06

Chameleon Plant

Chameleon Plant perennial

Evgeniya Vlasova / BHG

Heart-shape leaves decorated with splashes of white, green, pink, and yellow easily dazzle those unfamiliar with chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). But that admiration will quickly turn to dismay when this vigorous perennial begins spreading everywhere. Plus, once it's sunk its tenacious roots into your garden, it's nearly impossible to get rid of. Even herbicides don't slow it down much so please don't fall for its cute, colorful leaves if you see it in the garden center.

Plant This Instead: There are many other well-behaved groundcover plants like creeping thyme, oregano, or barrenwort that won't give you a decade-long headache like chameleon plant will.

04 of 06

Yellow Alyssum

Yellow Alyssum perennials

Evgeniya Vlasova / BHG

Blooming in early spring when we are most craving color after a long, drab winter, yellow alyssum, also called basket-of-gold, is a welcome sight in the garden. But once you get near enough to detect the flowers' fragrance, or perhaps more accurately their odor, you may end up backing away quickly. If you don't find the stinky blooms as offputting as I do, this plant actually is a tidy, drought-tolerant groundcover.

Plant This Instead: If you want early color with a more pleasing scent, opt for the delightful perfume of miniature daffodils.

05 of 06

False Sunflower

tuscan sun false sunflower bloom detail
Jacob Fox

Don't be fooled by false sunflower. Its garden behavior is nothing like true members of the sunflower family. False sunflower spreads aggressively by underground roots to form large colonies of plants. It will grow right over and through nearby perennials and shrubs, making it especially tough to evict without harming the plants it has engulfed.

Plant This Instead: Consider growing perennial sunflower, such as 'Maximillian,' for similar pollinator-friendly flowers on plants that aren't bent on taking over the world.

06 of 06

Purple Loosestrife

purple loosestrife in garden
Kim Cornelison

This perennial has a rap sheet. It's listed as a noxious weed in many states because it overtakes wetlands and crowds out native species. Purple loosestrife is quickly recognizable, thanks to its upright purple flower spikes that bloom from midsummer through fall. Although it's banned from sale in many states, it still makes its way into gardens. Uninformed friends sometimes offer a clump or two from their garden. This is one gift to refuse. And then kindly fill in your friend on its invasive nature.

Plant This Instead: For a long-lasting punch of purple in the garden, plant native purple coneflower or blazing star instead of purple loosestrife.

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