Urban and suburban gardeners are no strangers to the battle with invasive plants. In large part, this is because many modern gardening practices seem to be almost perfectly designed to encourage invasive plants.
What does this mean to the gardener?
Many things that gardeners are often encouraged to do create the perfect storm for weeds. Fertilizing, watering, mulching, and amending soils all reduce the severity of stress on plants. Activities like raking, tilling, digging, and weeding all increase the amount of disturbance in the garden.
By creating an environment of low plant stress and high soil disturbance, you are directly favoring invasive weeds over more stress-tolerant and competitive plants. If you want to encourage long-lived native plants to establish, the list of things you should stop doing is long: don’t fertilize, don’t water often, don’t mulch after establishment, don’t amend your soil, don’t rake, don’t till, and so one.
However if you are already facing a battle with weeds, you might need an ally in your plants. In a recent blog post on prairie restoration, the Nature Conservancy’s Chris Helzer described these “tough good guy” plants as Chuck Norris species.
We like the metaphor of Chuck Norris plants: native plants that are tough enough to keep weeds and invasive plants in check, at least partly if not completely.
Some might describe these Chuck Norris plants as aggressive or as “thugs” in the garden, but really it isn’t the plants that are at fault. Rather, it is the gardening practices of disturbing the soil and reducing stress that give these ruderal plants a leg up.
Here are five Chuck Norris native plants that might help fill this ecological niche in your garden until your more competitive and stress-tolerant plants can catch up.
Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot)
Also called Eupatorium rugosum, this white-flowered plant is extremely attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects. It grows well in partial to full sun to a height of 2 or 3′ and doesn’t like to be heavily watered. This plant is often sold as a cultivar called ‘Chocolate’ with dark leaves but the offspring plants will usually revert to green foliage.
Chasmanthium latifolium (inland sea oats)
This is a go-to plant for dry shade gardens. The lovely grass has a graceful arching form, and reseeds prolifically to quickly fill in the understory of a wooded garden. It is also a host plant for several species of skipper butterflies.
Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower)
Blue mistflower can fill the garden with short green foliage and fuzzy blue flowers in late summer and early fall. A nice companion plant to yellow-flowering black-eyed Susans, blue mistflower spreads to fill in the gaps between other plants. This is one of the best plants for attracting butterflies in the fall for sure.
Rudbeckia triloba (brown-eyed Susan)
A great naturalizer, Rudbeckia triloba is one of the taller coneflowers at 3 to 5 feet tall. Brown-eyed Susan is a good choice for sunny spots, though when summer is dry it can look a little frazzled. Still, it attracts lots of syrphid flies and finches.
Packera aurea (golden ragwort)
Golden ragwort (aka Senecio aureus) is one of the superhero plants: it grows in virtually all garden conditions, is a spring-blooming aster, has semi-evergreen foliage, and looks great. This is a short plant: the leaves are generally less than 8″ off the ground, though the flower stalks can be taller. Golden ragwort is one of our favorites.