Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Big, Bad Gardening Boo-Boo

Just when I think I'm actually getting the hang of this Bay-Friendly Landscaping, reality slaps me right up side the head!

And I have no one to blame but myself. 

Two years ago, I planted a pretty low-growing groundcover native to the Pacific Islands called  dwarf chenille plant, (Acalypha pendula), in my mulched beds to take up space.

It took up space alright. This innocuous looking plant, with its pretty red fuzzy blooms that resemble caterpillars, has become what my husband calls my "biggest gardening mistake ever."   

As Scooby Doo would say,  "Ruh Roh."

Chenille plant loved my yard, too much. It spread, and spread, and spread. It also started to climb.

It climbed up the shrubs.

It climbed up the trees.

It climbed up containers.

It spilled out over the edging of my landscape beds.

It grew on top of landscape fabric intended to suppress weeds. 

It grew in my shell pathways.

By now, you get the picture.

Before I bought this plant, I did what I thought was the responsible thing, and researched it. It was not listed as invasive in any of the sources I found, including the University of Florida EDIS database that I consider the most accurate. One Extension publication even recommended it as a groundcover in areas without foot traffic, which is exactly where I put it.

To be fair, the EDIS Fact Sheet says it is "not known to be invasive."
I suspect that horticulturists just don't have enough evidence about this plant's greedy nature yet, because it is not that commonly used. It's usually sold in hanging baskets, which is exactly where it should stay, based on my experience.

You have been warned.

About a month ago, we began removing it. I spent two days, about 4 hours each day, pulling it up. My husband joined me for one of the days.

A week later, it was back, popping up everywhere. We spent another few hours ripping it out.

Same thing last weekend. Rick and I each spent two hours on chenille destruction duty. We have traded in what was a very low-maintenance landscape for what seems like endless chenille patrol.  

      Four loads of chenille plant in three weeks!        
Unlike plants that grow individually from seeds, chenille plant grows by underground rhizomes that seem to have no beginning and no end. This makes it very difficult to control. There is just no way to successfully hand-pull all the rhizomes. 

After last weekend's waste of time when we should have been fishing, cycling or just sitting on the deck with a little umbrella drink, I added a new layer of pine bark mulch to my landscape beds and laid pine straw on top of that. It may slow the invading chenille, but I don't think it will stop it.

As much as I hate to say this, I think we are headed toward chemical warfare. With a plant that is as aggressive as this, a good herbicide containing glyphosate may be our only solution.  I have not used a chemical in my yard in years. But I need to defeat the chenille plant before it defeats us.

This hard lesson has reminded me of how vulnerable Florida's hospitable climate is to invasive plants and animals. It also reinforces that plants behave differently in different places and conditions. What is invasive in one yard may be well-behaved in another -- though I have since read complaints from other gardeners about the invasive nature of dwarf chenille.

But, as someone who has successfully eradicated a large plague of air potatoes in my yard, and who manages to keep in check the annoying Mexican petunias that continue to pop up 15 years after I first removed them, I know an invasive when I see one.

Stay tuned. This battle is just beginning. 


  1. Good luck with your battle! At my house I'm fighting nandina and ardisia--they're terrible, I hate these plants. Imagine how easy gardening would be if there were no invasives!

    1. Those are bad guys for sure, Leslie. And the list of invasive plants in Florida will continue to grow, I'm sure. Plenty to keep us on our toes for years to come.

  2. Yikes! Thanks for the heads up.
    I have also been yanking out Mexican petunias for years.

    1. I can't believe how persistent those Mexican petunias are, and I cringe because almost every nursery sells them (and not the sterile hybrid either, but the bad variety). But at least I can just rip them up easily when I see one. This chenille plant is something else!

  3. Aw, too bad it takes up so much of your free time. Would you consider using straight vinegar, or are you worried that it will kill the surrounding plants? I just hate for you to resort to chemicals when you haven't had to in so long. Keep us posted!

    1. Hi Daisy,

      From my research, vinegar only damages what you see above ground. It does not kill roots. Because chenille plants grows by rhizomes, I doubt that vinegar would solve my problem. Imagine a network of veins underground running all over your yard. That is what I have. I need a solution that is absorbed into those rhizomes. I'm not happy about any of this, but I have learned enough about invasives to know that sometimes a chemical is the only viable answer. I do worry about damaging my other plants, so will be as targeted as possible. I'm waiting to see how the thick covering of mulch and pine straw will do. I walked the yard yesterday and so far, so good. Stay tuned!

  4. We just bought a new home on a pong in Hernando county florida so I am glad I am fore warned of these plants . Thank you for posting

    Flora Ellen in Spring Hill

    1. I suspect Hernando might get too cold in the winter for the chenille, but better safe than sorry!

  5. I was just thinking "oh how pretty and unique" but I don't think I'll be adding them to my garden now. :-) Good luck!

    1. If you use them in a hanging basket, you'll be safe. Just don't plant them in the ground!:-)

  6. Thanks for the warning, Nanette! My wife was considering planting this for our garden and recently asked me to look it up. Glad to have come across your post before she went ahead or else we'd be saying goodbye to all the hard work we put into landscaping.

  7. I would love to hear how you eradicated your potato vines successfully. I am dealing with those now that have creeped into three areas of my yard from the neighbors.

  8. Holy cow! I'm so glad I ran across your article. I live in south Florida and was planning to use it as a ground cover in my semi-shady yard. Thanks for the heads up. I already have a problem with Virginia creeper.

  9. It will definitely cover an area, but if you want any other plants there it may cover them too! We think we have finally defeated it our yard -- only a few plants pop up here and there and we just pluck them out.