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When blooms are bad: Wisteria is lovely — and invasive
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Wisteria looks great, but the plant native to Asia can cause serious problems for native plant life in Georgia, according to local horticulturist. - photo by Nick Bowman

It’s that time of year again when flowers and trees are blooming. From the colors to the smells, but not so much the pollen, it’s all beautiful.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all good.

You’ve likely seen Chinese wisteria this spring. It’s the rich purple, fragrant flowers that hang from trees like grape bunches. It’s what a lot of people would actually want in their garden, or drooping from their pergola at home.

Wisteria is actually an invasive plant that has a bad habit of taking over a garden or backyard.

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Nathan Wilson, manager and lead horticulturist at Lanier Nursery. - photo by Scott Rogers
“Its growth pattern outperforms our native plants,” said Nathan Wilson, manager and lead horticulturist at Lanier Nursery. “There's nothing to really compete with it. Obviously it’s a vine-type plant, and being a vine-type plant, it climbs. So it will climb up trees and can grow in the shade or sun, so it has an advantage there.”

When wisteria quickly grows up and out. It can fill a tree canopy, which blocks the sun from getting to the pants down below.

“It chokes the trees and shades out the sun so the normal seedlings that would grow to replace the trees don’t get enough sun, so they don’t flourish,” said Betty Daunhauer, a member of the Redbud Project who is in charge of removing invasive plants.

The Redbud Project is dedicated to preserving native plants in the area and is an arm of the Hall County Master Gardeners.

She said invasive plants, wisteria included, steal water and nutrients that would otherwise help native plants thrive. As the invasive plant takes over, it knocks out the natives.

“It’s hard to convince people to not plant it because it's so pretty, but you have to think of the health of the woods,” Daunhauer said.

Invasive plants even affect native animals, many of which rely on the native plants that are crowded out by invasive species.

Wilson said there are a couple ways to get rid of wisteria in your yard. It’s important to find the source and cut the vine off there, but it doesn’t stop there. It has to be cut back every time the plant starts to try and grow again. He said continuing to do that weakens the plant, making it hard for it to grow again.

If you’d like to go the non-organic way, he said cutting the vine at the source and then spraying an herbicide on it should get the job done.

“We see that the growth pattern of wisteria is going to be very fast, several feet a year,” Wilson said. “Because it grows so quickly, you want to nip it in the bud and get rid of it as soon as you can because it will, similar to kudzu, continue to flourish.”

Wisteria isn’t the only invasive plant that looks nice and gets planted in gardens.

Wilson said privet is beginning to bud, and they reseed heavily and are often distributed all over by birds feeding on them. Bradford pear trees are another invasive plant that people tend to be drawn toward, but can cause damage to native plants.

The one plant people typically don’t think about being invasive, though, is the butterfly bush.

“This is kind of scandalous,” Wilson said, laughing. “Everybody thinks that butterfly bush is a great plant — and it does provide a source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds — but it can reseed and overpopulate an area.”

That’s why he said homeowners should be careful when planting things like that. Some plants that have become common nowadays are actually invasive and can cause harm, no matter how nice they look.

“The best thing to do is to not plant them to begin with,” Daunhauer said.

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The vine-like wisteria grows in sun or shade and can quickly take over stands of trees, bushes and other native plants. - photo by Nick Bowman
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