Friends Don’t Let Friends Plant Goutweed

Don’t let the pretty picture fool you.

I was hanging out with a friend the other night, and at evening’s end, as I dropped her off at her house, she casually mentioned she was planning to remove the rest of her lawn next to the sidewalk this spring. She said, “Don’t hate me, I’m thinking of planting goutweed.” As she walked towards her front door I was yelling, “Don’t do it! Plant anything else. I’ve got things I can give you instead!” If it had been the beginning of the evening rather than the end, I would have sat her down, made her a strong cup of coffee, and earnestly attempted to dissuade her from this crazy notion. As it was, I drove away in a troubled state of mind.

Goutweed, or Aegopodium, is a harmless enough looking plant. It’s leaves are variegated—a pretty green and white—and look pleasant in the shade. The white flowers it gets in late summer are Queen Anne’s Lace-like and quite attractive. Now, please pretend I didn’t just say any of those positive things. Wipe them from your brain. Because goutweed is DANGEROUS.

It’s sold as “groundcover” and it certainly is. It would cover the ground of the entire world if it had its way. Goutweed overstays its welcome. It bullies. It swarms. It jostles. It bulldozes. The only safe place to plant it is in a garden bed surrounded by a football field of concrete, and even then I’d worry.

If you already have goutweed in your garden (like I do, a beginner’s mistake made many years ago) you could peruse this web discussion on methods of removal. Most involve a combination of remorseless weeding and heavy-duty smothering. It is possible to rid yourself of this troublesome weed, if you are extremely vigilant, but it is far better to not let it get through the garden gate in the first place. I’ll be hoping it’s not too late for my friend.

Photo: Helen Battersby

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