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My Decision 

In my last post, 'Should I Rip Out My Mahonia', I discussed the fact that one of my beloved woodland plants is on Alabama's prohibited list. Until recently I thought it was a native. There are native mahonias in other parts of the country, but leatherleaf mahonia growing in my garden and spreading invasively through the southeastern states is not one of them. 

So should I rip it out? 

I appreciate all the comments and advice I received. The majority suggested I keep it, as long as I can contain it within my garden. However, both Carolyn of Carolyn's Shade Garden  and Frances of Island Threads pointed out that birds take the seeds to other woodlands beyond my control, a problem I was already considering. Carolyn also commented that it is easy to be environmentally responsible when it doesn't cost anything.  

And that is the rub. If we truly believe something, that belief affects our actions. Otherwise, we are giving only lip service and we are hypocrites.

So am I willing to pay the cost? The issue, and I knew this from the beginning, goes further than my mahonias. The issue also involves the nandinas, another invasive plant in my garden. The nandinas give color and structure to the woodland garden. I didn't plant either of these plants. They were here from the beginning, and what would my woodland garden be without them?This fall view of the woodland garden shows the nandina and mahonia growing under dogwood trees.

So this weekend I studied my woodland garden. I searched the internet, reading about Alabama natives and other shade lovers that could grow here. I looked at the woodlands beyond the garden area. And I was stunned.

Beyond the big brush pile at the edge of the garden (an eyesore, but I have to pile clippings somewhere!), in a part of the woods I rarely see, there was a swath of nandinas. A few mahonias, but now I know positively what my decision is.

Long ago a gardener who loved ivy planted some here and there. Now the stuff is climbing into the trees and swallowing the woods. I do not want my nandina and mahonia to be such a curse to future gardeners. The mahonia and nandinas are coming out. All of them. I spent most of today pulling and shoveling them out. Fortunately, we have had lots of rain and the ground is soft. I made a good start, but I have a long way to go. I know I will have to spray herbicide on some of them.

The first one, a large mahonia, beautiful and healthy, was emotionally the hardest; but as I was pulling, I was also planting. A little sugar helps the medicine go down, and I just couldn't do this without having some replacements at hand. My woodland garden will not be the same, but it will be more diverse and ultimately more beautiful. I hope!

This is what I have added so far: 

Native snowflake hydrangea

Leucothoe axillaris, a native shrub also called doghobble. Hunting dogs apparently have a tough time getting through these shrubs!

Pieris japonica, a non-native that reminds me of nandina. It doesn't have beautiful berries, but it does have lovely white flowers.

Rhododendrum, roseum elegans. This was a bargain plant. Rhodies can be finicky. I planted it in humus rich, well-drained soil. We'll see!

Camellias: Taylor's perfection, Crimson Candles, Gunsmoke, and Something Beautiful.

Plants on my wish list:

Alabama croton, a rare native.

Euonymus Americanus, a native also called 'Bursting Hearts' and 'Strawberry Bush'.

Alabama snow-wreath, another rare native.

Lots more ferns, daffodils, woodland phlox, and other stuff I haven't thought of yet!

Follow up note: To see what the Woodland Garden looks like without the mahonia and nandina, see The Woodland Garden: Spring, 2011


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Reader Comments (19)

Deb - you are broaching a subject I am only just now starting to understand the gravity of (invasive plants to a region). I'm sure your extra efforts are all for the good, it's a shame 'invasives' have to be a "favorite" at the same time. Your post (and hard work) will inspire other gardeners and naturalists!

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShyrlene

They are such pretty trees actually. I don't get to admire purple and yellow trees here. Do whatever you feel is right. Btw, it's not as if you are breeding mosquitoes. :)

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOne

The new plants are going to look beautiful in your garden! Love your want list too!

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSweetbay

Good luck on taking your garden back to native. It is an on going struggle. I ride (horse) with friend who is a biologist and she had spent a great deal of time educating me on the perils of non-native invasive species.

me:It goes like this: are those wild roses beautiful (ride, ride, trot trot)
her: invasive species
me: sigh ( ride, ride, trot, trot)

I have really been focusing on removing invasive species from my woodlands. I applaud you and you chose some very nice replacements.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlifeshighway

You made a very difficult decision but in reading your post it makes so much sense. I applaud you for doing this. I do love your replacement plants. I am looking forward to your post pictures when you are all done.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarin/Southern Meadows

Deb, I applaud you. My last two gardens, I was what I call a 'classic gardener'...from a long line of equivalently 'classic gardeners'. Poring over spring catalogs, I wanted the prettiest, most unique plants in a garden, and never thought for a moment about their impact beyond my property line. I thought not using chemicals in my garden was enough to consider myself a responsible gardener.

You, like us, live in a special place. Part of a natural woodland. Part of a functioning ecosystem. Our garden choices can so easily tip a balance, whether or not we are even aware of it. I've changed so much as a gardener living here. I've ripped out our local invasives like French Broom, Vinca, Forget-me-nots, cotoneasters. At first it was difficult. We have so much area to garden in, and each would need to be replaced. Now I ENJOY tearing them out, and hunting down suitable alternatives.

Invasives not only can impede native wild animals and insects, but they can also change the composition of soils. Our French Broom adds nitrogen, but our CA native wildflowers generally want poorer soils. It all snowballs. As an invasive displaces a native plant, native insects may be displaced. That affects the birds that frequent the area, and then the mammals. Our garden web is so interconnected with all around us. Considering the space beyond where we garden is truly what makes us good gardeners.

Your garden will be all the more beautiful for your changes, and I look forward to seeing your new plants thrive, and your garden in the woods evolve. Bravo!

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

You have certainly made a wise decision. I inherited a few Nandinas on this half-acre when I moved here. There was no garden, only grass, a couple of trees, a few palms...and Nandina. Lucky me! I have yet to dig them out, as the work is just too daunting to consider at this time. They are beautiful and functional, I have to admit, and I often make the excuse that I didn't plant them, so it isn't my fault. Yeah, I know, it's shameless.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFloridagirl

you are very brave Deb but I felt from your earlier post you were already half-way to coming to this decision, actually planting the new plants can be quite exciting seeing the new growth,
the reason the Mahonia and Nandina look so beautiful is that is why they were introduced to your country, ugly plants are left in their native habitat and not brought thousands of miles to become invasives, in the Highlands of Scotland Rhododendrum Ponticum is an invasive that is killing native plants which is a big problem for windlife,
Curbstone valley farm makes some very good points, you are both setting a good example to others, Frances

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Deb I didn't think it was me that said this >>> Frances also commented that it is easy to be environmentally responsible when it doesn't cost anything. <<< just re-read the comments on the previous post and it was Carolyn of Carolyn's shade garden, I will say though I agree, please do not worry about altering the post or anything as I do not mind ~ you possibly read my mind :o) Frances

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

I salute you, not an easy decision to make, but seems like the most environmentally concious one. I hope your new-look woodland garden delights you as much, if not more, and at least you know you are doing your bit to curb the invasion of non-natives.

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

Good on you. Well done!

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Webber

Deb, As difficult as it is, I think you made the right decision here, for all the reasons you've outlined. And I think Carolyn is right that the issue isn't exotics vs. natives (although there are good reasons for using as many natives as we can), but invasives vs. noninvasives. I have just recently learned, via Adrian's blog Ecological Gardening that the old-fashioned orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) that I love so much (the ones you southerners call "ditch lilies") are invasive in some areas. And I was so happy to get some from a friend a few years ago and try to naturalize them along the side of my driveway! Some sources say that these flowers are sterile, which would mean that they spread by roots, not by seeds, but I'm not sure that's correct. Right now, I'm telling myself that I need to do more research about how they spread, how big a problem they are in my area, etc. But I think I'm probably going to be faced with the difficult decision to rip them out. Not all that is beautiful is beneficial. (Sigh)

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I like the consideration you have given here - lots of thoughtfulness about natives and future generations. Your ruthlessness will pay off given your replacement plant list and look forward to images of the new woodland plants. But oh, I wish I lived nearby as would loved to have taken the Mahonias and Nandinas off your hands.

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura @ PatioPatch

You swallowed hard Deb, you will feel good when the work is done. I've been pulling ivy up from around my house. There is tons more down the drive. You are very lucky to be able to replace those with new exciting plants! How exciting! I guess I'll be doing some pulling myself.
But first I'm going to have to go shovel all this SNOW!!! hahahaha!

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEve

I prefer to moderate comments, and have removed my captcha thingy, which can be very irritating. but I am getting clever ... before I send it into oblivion ... I copy my comment. At least then I can try again ...

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

Deb, Your willingness to put your thought process out there and really listen to what people said even though you obviously loved your plants is admirable. It is very sobering when you venture off the beaten path only to find burning bush or barberry planted where you know no gardener has ventured. When I do my invasive plant work in Maine, I always want to drag people out to the forest and say look at this and this and this. Just by hosting this valuable discussion you have moved the process along. Thank you so much, Carolyn

This thread is so very old! Now it is year 2018 as I type. I am in North Texas, Greater Dallas-Ft Worth. Everything "native" needs full sun for sunrise to sunset; In a suburban environment there are [I have] trees and houses blocking much of that hot intense sun. I planted Leatherleaf Mahonia, 5 of them behind a fence and under a tree. There is nothing else available here that will grow in the shade in semi-desert conditions. If there is, it is kept a big secret by the plant nursery industry. Nandina around the house; The Nandina sometimes does make "pups" and there are seedlings but few survive. In a few places I try to keep the seedlings and usually fail. My Mahonia is in a big bed. "No-Float" mulch, Landscape fabric over the mulch, more NO-Float on top. I am trying to get my first crop of Mahonia berries mature to plant more along another section of fence. After that I will cut off the berries after they form. If anyone wants to look at "Invasive & non-native" start with grass. Are you ready to destroy and eliminate most of the lawn grasses that are everywhere and replace them with scraggly tall native grasses? Just for sake of discussion. There is a native prairie grass for the North Texas. It requires 12 hours of full sun; stands 9 to 12 inches tall. Looks sort of nice if done carefully and where there is no shade at all. Zoning requires grass to be not more than 6 inches tall and manicured.

May 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

Hi Dusty,
It is great to know that people are still reading this post after all these years! An update on my own garden: It has been impossible to get rid of all of the nandina and mahonia. They still linger on the edges near my woodland garden, and I have resolved to keep them out of my garden proper and let them do their thing in the woods, particularly after my neighbor on the other side of the woods told me how much he loved them! The main reason is that I just don't have the energy or time to hunt down and destroy every seedling that sprouts. Actually, the cursed ivy is a greater problem and threat to my garden; it is worse than the notorious kudzu, which I also have to deal with. The kudzu has been much easier to control than ivy. I work hard to keep ivy out of the garden, but the woods around our property is infested with it. Believe me, when people talk out invasives, I know what a real problem looks like!

Obviously, the mahonia and nandina are not invasive for you, so no one should object to your planting it. Regarding natives, I do plant a lot of natives, because they do well in my difficult climate, but I am certainly no purist. Mine is a decorative garden, and there are plenty of non-natives. I have a healthy garden that teems with wildlife, so overall I am content with the way I have managed it.

Wishing you the best and happy gardening in Texas!

May 9, 2018 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I love my mahonia too but it is encroaching on beds across the path roses, iris, and I need to know how to barrier it's roots. I think it will take over the whole yard. I am considering a cement curb, or bamboo barrier but fear they will crawl under it.

May 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLael

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