Stopping Invasive Species at the Source: What to Avoid at Garden Centers

people shopping at a garden center
People shopping at a big box garden center. Credit: Marco Sanchez/PEC.

While it may sound like a no-brainer, the first thing you can do to manage invasive species on your property is to not plant them in the first place. This advice may seem obvious, but many homeowners are not even aware that the plants they pick out in the nursery are actually invasive species. An ornamental plant that seems like a nice addition to your garden could actually become a major headache in the future. 

Many garden centers or nurseries in Virginia fail to inform customers which plants in their selection are invasive species. In fact, many of the invasive species available for sale may actually be labeled “fast-growing” or “maintenance-free,” which are incredibly misleading labels. Despite the efforts of several groups like PEC to ban the sale of invasive species, there are currently no restrictions on plant sales in Virginia or DC, meaning garden centers and nurseries can continue to supply in-demand invasive species. Some common places that still carry invasive species are big name garden centers like The Home Depot or Lowe’s, although many local nurseries may still carry invasives, and they can easily be purchased online as well. Don’t let someone’s quick sell become a nightmare in your yard.

Common Invasive Species Found in Garden Centers

As a consumer, there are a couple steps you can take to avoid purchasing invasive species. For starters, make sure you are familiar with some of the most common invasive species that are sold at garden centers so that you can avoid purchasing them in the first place. Even better, if you are considering buying a plant from a retailer, do your research ahead of time. Either go home after you’ve identified a plant you’re interested in and do some research on it, or do your research before you head out and make a list of plants you would like to look for. You can bring your phone along and use an app like iNaturalist to research on the fly.

Porcelain berry. Credit: Lindley Ashline CC BY-NC 4.0
English ivy. Credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Autumn olive. Credit: Emma Erler, University of New Hampshire, Bugwood.org
Bamboo. Credit: Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Burning bush. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
Chinese privet. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
Chinese wisteria. Credit: David Stephens, Bugwood.org
Autumn clematis. Credit: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
Japanese honeysuckle. Credit: Ryan Armbrust, Kansas Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Japanese stiltgrass. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org, CC 3.0
Japan spiraea. Credit: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Kudzu. Credit: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
Mile-a-minute. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
White mulberry. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
Periwinkle. Credit: Caleb Slemmons, National Ecological Observatory Network, Bugwood.org
Princess tree. Credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Purple loosestrife. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
Multiflora rose. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org
Tree of heaven. Credit: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org

Invasive Species and Their Native Look-Alikes

If you know you like the look of one particular invasive species, however, and would like to find some common invasive species look-alikes that are actually native, check out these resources.

Native Plant Retailers

If you want to avoid the traditional garden center altogether and shop from reliable plant retailers, there are several native-only sellers, mail-order nurseries, and native plants sales in Virginia. To find reliable native plant retailers, check out these resources.


Resources: