The Joy of Landscaping

A Gardening Blog

Substitutes & Options for Some Common Invasive Plants - Part 1

The joy of the abundance of plant options!

While my last blog - Invasive plants: avoid these very bad boys! - was not very joyful, with listings of plants to avoid, I will get back to the "joy" of landscaping by providing substitutes for some of them. This post will cover shrubs while a future post will address other plant categories.

Invasive: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

The Barberry shrub is mainly sought for its crimson/burgundy foliage. Different hybrids offer sizes that range from 2' to 6' in height. Substitutes that also have burgundy/dark purple foliage in the medium to large height size include:

  • Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (Smokebush) - Full Sun, 10' - 15', pink flowers in summer, Zone 5-8
  • Lagerstroemia 'Midnight Magic' (Midnight Magic Crape Myrtle) - Full Sun, 4' - 6', dark pink blooms in summer, Zone 6-9
  • Loropetalum chinense var rubrum (Chinese FringeFlower) - Full Sun - Part Sun, 3' - 6', pink blooms in spring, evergreen, Zone 7-10
  • Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark) - Full Sun- several excellent hybrids with burgundy foliage of this native shrub with various heights (4' - 10') such as Diablo, Summer Wine, & Little Devil, Zone 3-7/8
  • Sambucus 'Black Lace' (Black Lace Elderberry) - Full Sun to Part Sun, 6', purple-black lacy foliage similar to a Japanese Maple with pink blooms in late spring, does need to be pruned frequently, Zone 5 - 8
  • Weigela florida 'Wine & Roses' (Wine & Roses Weigela) - Full Sun, dark pink blooms in late spring, Zone 4-8

Cotinus coggyria

Cotinus coggyria and Loropetalum

Lower growing substitutes (< 3' height, as a substitute for Crimson Pigmy Barberry) include:

  • Heuchera burgundy varieties like 'Palace Purple', 'Plum Pudding', 'Crimson Curls' - Part Sun, Zone 4-9
  • Loropetalum 'Purple Pixie' - Part Sun, evergreen, Zone 7-10
  • Sedum telephium (Atropurpureum Group) 'Xenox’ or 'Raspberry Truffle' - Full Sun, Zone 3-9
  • Weigela florida 'Midnight Wine' or 'Fine Wine' (Weigela) - Full Sun, pink-red blooms in late spring, Zone 4-8

Invasive: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

The Burning Bush is one of the most eye catching plants in the fall, when its foliage turns brilliant dark red. Other shrubs that also turn a red/burgundy color in the fall include:

  • Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry) - Full Sun - Part Sun, another native with white flowers in spring, red berries throughout winter, 6 '- 12', Zone 4-9
  • Enkianthus campanulatus (Redvein Enkianthus) - Part Shade, moist acidic soil (likes similar conditions to azaleas), white, pink, yellow or red flowers late spring, treelike 6' - 12', Zone 5-8
  • Fothergilla gardenii (Dwarf Fothergilla) or Fothergilla 'Mt Airy'- Full Sun - Shade, this native plant has white bottlebrush-like flowers in spring; the fall color can sometimes be more orange-yellow, likes moist, acid soil, Dwarf is 3' while Mt. Airy is 5' - 6', Zone 5-8
  • Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire) - Full Sun - Shade, not only does this native plant have nice fall color, it is filled with white plumes in late spring, can be used in wet sites, 3' - 4', Zone 5-9
  • Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low' - Full Sun, 2' in height but can spread to 8', very useful on slopes for erosion or as a ground cover, drought tolerant, female plants have berries, Zone 3-9. Other types of Rhus (Sumac) are available such as Rhus copalina, that grow taller and have brilliant fall color, but all generally need Full Sun, well drained soil and will sucker/spread.
  • Vaccinium corymbosum (Highbush blueberry) - Full Sun - Part Sun, native plant, 4' - 10', choose cultivars for best fruit production, prefers moist, acidic soil, Zone 4-8
  • Viburnum varieties - Full Sun - Part Sun, 4' - 10', Zone 4-8 but will vary by cultivar. Many Viburnums have nice fall foliage if planted in a sunny site, but the exact color can be inconsistent, varying from yellow to orange to crimson to purple. Blooms occur in spring and are usually white. Some Viburnums noted for more consistent fall color include V. acerifolium (Mapleleaf Viburnum), V. trilobum (American cranberry bush), V. nudum 'Winterthur', and V. lentago (Nannyberry).

Itea virginica


Itea virginica and Viburnum (photo by Gail Hampshire - Flicker)

Invasive: Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) & Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

Elaeagnus is a medium to large sized deciduous shrub that sprawls and has been used for erosion control as it tolerates difficult conditions like drought and salt spray. Its foliage tends to be gray-green.

Abelia (photo by Bri Weldon - Flicker)


  • Abelia x grandiflora (Glossy Abelia) - Full Sun - Part Sun, arching branches with white or pink flowers in spring thru summer, 3' - 6' height, Zone 5-9
  • Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) - Full Sun to Part Shade, 5' - 10', native shrub adaptable to shade and wet conditions, yet can also tolerate drought, yellow flowers in spring, foliage turns yellow in fall, Zone 4-9
  • Myrica pensylvanica (Northern Bayberry) or Myrica cerifera (Wax Myrtle) - Full Sun, native shrub with silver berries in winter, 6' - 10'. Like Elaeagnus, it displays salt tolerance and is often planted in coastal areas. Can sucker and colonize, and can be used as as hedge plant. Zone 3-7 for Northern Bayberry, Zone 7-10 for Wax Myrtle
  • Ternstroemia gymnanthera or Cleyera japonica (Japanese Cleyera) - usable in sun or shade, drought tolerant, can be kept pruned occasionally or allowed to grow to 10'. It has glossy, dark leaves with red tipped new growth and is evergreen. Zone 7 - 11

Invasive: Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium, Ligustrum sinense)

Privet's primary appeal is its use as an evergreen, dense hedge plant that can be pruned/shaped as desired. Fortunately, there are other evergreen shrubs suitable for this purpose.

Boxwood (Buxus), Holly (Ilex) and Yew (Taxus) are suitable substitutes, with Yews better for shady conditions and colder regions, and Holly doing better in sunnier spots in warmer regions. All can be found in a variety of sizes to fill your needs and are good foundation plants for the home landscape. Boxwood and Holly can be sheared and pruned to create a formal hedge, or left more in their natural state with occasional pruning.

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' or 'Emerald Green' (Emerald Green Arborvitae) is also an option that requires no pruning, and can grow to 15' and likes Full to Part Sun.



Holly and Boxwood

Invasive: Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)

Winter Creeper is a prostrate to mound forming evergreen, vine-like shrub, often variegated, with gold and green varieties, 2’-4’ tall and wide. Substitutes include these short, ground cover type shrubs (if you're looking for a vine, those will be covered in a future post):

  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry) - Full Sun to Part Sun, native plant with white flowers in spring, salt tolerant, evergreen with red stems, does well in dry rocky soils and rock gardens, Zone 2-6
  • Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny Spurge) - Part Shade to Shade, this native deciduous ground cover is NOT the same as the invasive Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese Pachysandra). Likes moist, acidic soil. Spreads slowly to form a dense carpet. Zone 5-9
  • Comptonia peregrina (Sweetfern) - Full Sun - Part Sun, 2 '-4', native deciduous shrub with fern-like leaves, can sucker and form colonies, Zone 2-6
  • Cotoneaster apiculatus (Cranberry Cotoneaster) or Cotoneaster horizontalis 'Variegatus', which is green-white variegated. Full Sun, 2' - 3' with 4'-6' spread, red berries throughout fall, foliage turns colorful in fall, dark green glossy foliage, salt spray tolerant, Zone 4-7
  • Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata' (Spreading Japanese Plum Yew) - Full Sun to Part Shade, 2'-3' , dense, needle stemmed evergreen, Zone 6-9
  • Low growing junipers like Juniperus horizontalis, Juniperus chinensis 'Procumbens' or Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific' (for blue-gray foliage).

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Pachysandra procumbens

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (photo by Walter Siegmund - Wikimedia Commons) and Pachysandra procumbens

For yellow foliage, substitute evergreen shrubs include Taxus cuspidata 'Dwarf Bright Gold', Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Mops’ (Mops False Cypress) or Juniperus conferta 'Golden Pacific' (Golden Pacific Juniper).

These perennials could also achieve a similar aesthetic effect, especially if you are looking for substitutes for the variegated or golden cultivars of Euonymus like 'Emerald 'n Gold' or 'Variegatus':

  • Polemonium 'Brise d'Anjou' (Variegated Jacob's ladder)
  • Hostas - cultivars such as Patriot, Albomarginata, Fire and Ice, Autumn Frost, and Cameo for variegated foliage
  • Perennial ground covers like Sedum 'Angelina' or Thymus x citriodorus "Variegatus" or "Aureus", though these will be lower in height than Wintercreeper.



Polemonium 'Brise d'Anjou' and Hosta