Regional Picks: Alternatives to Troublesome Plants – Southeast

Fine Gardening - Issue 157

Troublesome Plant – Lupines

(Lupinus spp. and cvs.)



1. Carolina Lupine

Name: Thermopsis villosa

USDA hardiness zones: 4 to 8

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, moist, well-drained soil

Those of us living in the mid-South see photos of lupines in flower and want that same display of “flower­sicles” in our gardens, but it just will not happen here with the region’s heat and humidity. Carolina lupine, however, will give you a similar display of reliable flowers with little work. Deer do not munch on them, and they are a permanent fixture in the garden, returning year after year with gusto. The attractive seed heads are an added benefit.


Troublesome Plant – Weeping European larch

(Larix decidua ‘Pendula’)



2. ‘Cascade Falls’ Weeping Bald Cypress

Name: Taxodium distichum ‘Cascade Falls’

Zones: 5 to 11

Size: 8 to 12 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist to wet, acidic soil

We have all seen the elegant weeping European larch in gardens and photos and experienced intense plant lust, but this plant will not tolerate the heat and humidity of the South. You can achieve a similar look with a weeping variety of our native bald cypress: ‘Cascade Falls’. You will get fine texture, luxuriously flowing limbs, beautiful fall color, and a standout winter show of bare sculptural branching.


Troublesome Plant – Gunnera

(Gunnera tinctoria)



3. Chinese Rhubarb

Name: Rheum palmatum and cvs.

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: Up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, humus-rich soil

Another plant that drives plant nerds wild is gunnera. The photos of people posing underneath its giant leaves make it an “I-gotta-have-that” plant. But it does not like intense heat, and it requires tons of water; in our region, you’d have to turn the water hose on in May and leave it running until Halloween. You can achieve a dramatic show of giant leaves that make a statement by using, instead, Chinese rhubarb. It is easy to grow, doesn’t require constant moisture, can handle cold winter temperatures reliably, and gives you the label of “plantaholic” without a lot of work.


Jeff Calton is the owner of Good Earth Landscapes in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Photos, except where noted: #1 (troublesome), Bananapatrol/courtesy of; #1 (alternative), Jerry Pavia; #2 (alternative), Doreen Wynja for Monrovia; #3 (alternative), Kerry Ann Moore; #2 (troublesome) and #3 (troublesome), Michelle Gervais

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