Gardening Advice: Toxic Plants and Perennial Weeds

Toxic plants and perennial weeds can be sneaky garden foes. Learn how to battle them and win with advice from Teri Dunn Chace.

| May 2012

Your garden is supposed to be fun — a place to relax in and recharge your batteries, a source of beauty and pleasure. But all too often, things go wrong. Those expensive tulip bulbs you planted last fall never came up. Your lilac doesn’t bloom. The lawn looks terrible. And worst of all, you don’t know what to do about it. The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers (Timber Press, 2012) contains great gardening advice to help you solve virtually any gardening challenge. In this excerpt from the chapter “Weeds and Problem Plants,” author Terri Dunn Chace provides advice for dealing with two garden snafus: growing toxic plants and letting perennial weeds take hold. 

Growing toxic plants

Some garden plants are poisonous. Garden centers don’t always post warnings, so you might have no way of knowing a plant is toxic until someone falls sick. While it’s rare for a child or pet to eat leaves, berries, seedpods, or roots, it can happen, and the worst-case scenario is grim.

Among the common toxic plants that should never be ingested are rhubarb (very poisonous leaves), larkspur (seedlings as well as seeds), monkshood (roots), irises (rhizomes), daphne (berries), castor bean (even one seed can be lethal), yew (berries and needles), oleander (leaves, stems), daffodils (bulbs), and all parts of rhododendrons, azaleas, and cherry laurels. Symptoms vary depending on the plant and the size of the person or animal ingesting it, but they can range from digestive upset to irregular heartbeat to fatal seizures.

The right way to do it: If small children or unleashed pets frequently visit your yard, err on the side of caution and supervise them at all times. Lecture children from the time they can understand to never, ever ingest anything in the garden. Never let them see you sampling anything, which could awaken their curiosity or give them a false sense of security.

When shopping for plants, inquire about their safety or look it up yourself. If you choose something that is potentially harmful, block direct access to it with other plants or garden decor (plant in the back of a flowerbed), trim off low branches, or even post a warning sign.

If I goofed, can I fix it? Chances are if a child or pet manages to consume and get sick from a daffodil bulb or the yew bush in your yard, you’ll be inclined to tear it out and replace it with something safe. If you opt to keep it, employ at least one of the safety measures described.

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