Common Herbs With Weedy Ways




Don’t let weedy herbs run amok in your garden! Illustration: confessionsofacomposter

Who doesn’t enjoy fresh herbs, those aromatic plants that add such punch to our meals? Or treat our sniffles or upset stomaches? And they’re never fresher than when we grow them ourselves. That’s why herbs are presently so popular: everyone wants to try them. And most people find them easy to grow… at first. But many herbs have a major downside: they’re moderately to highly invasive and can quickly switch from being useful plants to becoming out-and-out garden thugs.

Two Categories of Weedy Herbs

20170425C WC.jpg

Borage is an easy-to-grow annual herb… perhaps too easy to grow, as it can self-sow so abundantly that it becomes a weed. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There are two categories of potentially weedy herbs: those that produce creeping rhizomes or stolons (or sprout from broken pieces of root) that head off in all directions, soon producing offsets that surround and overwhelm neighboring plants, and those whose invasive habits are due to self-sowing, giving hordes of babies from the seeds they drop, hordes that can quickly threaten your entire herb garden.

Here is a list of the “main culprits” along with their preferred mode of invasion:

  1. Borage (Borago officinalis): seeds
  2. Caraway (Carum carvi): seeds
  3. Catnip (Nepeta cataria): seeds
  4. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): seeds
  5. Chervil (Cerefolium anthriscus): seeds
  6. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): seeds

    20170425H.UserSB_Johnny, WCJPG.JPG

    Perilla or shish is a popular Chinese herb, but self-sows like the dickens. Photo: User:SB_Johnny, Wikimedia Commons

  7. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): seeds and root sections
  8. Coriander or cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): seeds
  9. Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita): seeds
  10. Dill (Anethum graveolens): seeds
  11. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): seeds
  12. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): seeds
  13. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum): seeds
  14. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana): root sections
  15. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): seeds
  16. Mint (Mentha spp.): stolons and creeping stems
  17. Monarde (Monarda didyma): rhizomes
  18. Mustard (Brassica nigra and B. juncea): seeds
  19. Origan (Origanum vulgare): seeds

    20170425F, Cillas, WC.jpg

    Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides) can become a garden weed. Photo: Cillas, Wikimedia Commons

  20. Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus): rhizomes and seeds
  21. Shisho or perilla (Perilla frutescens): seeds
  22. Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata): seeds
  23. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum): rhizomes
  24. Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare): rhizomes and seeds
  25. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): seeds
  26. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): seeds

How to Control Weedy Herbs

Weedy or not, several of the herbs presented above are essential to any herb garden. Can you even imagine cooking without thyme, oregano or chives? But fortunately there are ways to grow weedy herbs while limiting their ability to invade. Here are a few:

A. Self-Sowing Herbs

20170425E, WC.jpg

Harvesting early and often prevents the plant from going to seed. Photo:, Wikimedia Commons.

  • Either remove all their flowers or harvest them before any seeds ripen;
  • Apply 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) of your choice of organic mulch (shredded leaves, wood chips, forestry mulch, etc.) throughout the herb garden, completely covering the soil. Seeds will not germinate in mulch-covered soil;
  • Hand pull when plants are still small;
  • Grow them beyond their hardiness zone. For example, fennel is hardy from zone 6 to 9 and can be weedy there if you let it go to seed. However, it won’t be invasive in zones 1 to 5.

B. Herbs With Wandering Rhizomes and Stolons

  • Cultivate them in pots on a deck, patio or balcony: that will nip any spread in the bud;


    Peppermint (Mentha piperita) grow inside a barrier made of sunken pots.

  • Plant them inside a barrier sunk into the ground. This could simply be a plastic pot or pail with its bottom removed. The barrier should stick up at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the ground as the rhizomes of some plants, such as mint, right will creep right over a barrier that is level with the ground.


Don’t hesitate to grow herbs: most are great and very productive plants and you’ll be thrilled with the results. But do take note of the invasive ones. After all, forewarned is forearmed!20170425G

The Other Chives: Allium tuberosum


A row of garlic chives would look great in both a vegetable garden and a flower garden.

Garlic chives, also called Chinese chives and oriental garlic, is a plant grown both for its edible foliage and its ornamental value and you find them in more and more gardens.

Although garlic chives belongs to the same genus as regular chives, Allium, which they share with both the onion (A. cepa) and true garlic (A. sativum), garlic chives are not that closely related to garden chives ( A. schoenoprasum), but rather gets their common name from the fact that their leaves are used in cooking much as we use chives. As for the “garlic” part, garlic chives taste very much like garlic, although their flavor is less intense, and indeed they are used as a garlic substitute in cooking.

As for the names Chinese chives and oriental garlic, they refer to over 4000 years of use in Chinese and oriental cooking. It is believed that Marco Polo originally introduced this plant to the Occident, but garlic chives essentially remained a specimen plant in botanical collections. The rediscovery of their culinary use in the West is quite recent.


The star-shaped flowers form an attractive and long-lasting cluster.

And what a beautiful plant! The flattened arching leaves (they remind me narcissus leaves) emerge in the spring and form dense and attractive clumps for much of the summer. Then umbels of starry white flowers sprout on 15 to 24 inch (40 to 60 cm) stems in late summer and early fall. Not only do flowers appear a time when our gardens often need an extra burst of bloom, but they last a long time: 2 months, sometimes even more! In my zone 3 garden, garlic chives are often still in bloom when the first snow falls.

Easy to Grow

Garlic chives are very simple to grow, as easy as regular chives… and who has trouble with them?

Any well-drained soil in sun or part shade will do. You can easily multiply them by dividing an existing clump. This is best done in spring or fall, but in fact, you can divide them almost any time the ground isn’t frozen. If you buy a plant (and it’s quite readily available in the herb section of most nurseries), you can plant it in any season too. Seeds sown outdoors or indoors in the spring germinate quickly and give plants that readily bloom the second year.

Garlic chives are also very hardy: to zone 3, even zone 2 in sheltered spots, yet they also tolerate hot climates up to zone 10. In mild climates, their foliage is evergreen. They die back in the fall in cold climates and are replaced in spring.

One Sour Note

Despite their beauty and utility, garlic chives can be very invasive, not because of their rhizomes (they form a thick clump that widens over time without spreading), but due to their shameless self-sowing. Indeed, they tend to sprout here and there in open spaces, especially in vegetable beds where we tend to leave a lot of bare soil. Of course, the young plants are easy to eliminate: just pull them out, but still, their control is additional task for the gardener.

To prevent self-sowing, you can always remove the flowers as they begin to fade, thus before the seed capsules mature, and therefore prevent the seeds from ever forming, but there is an even more laidback method. Just mulch just your garden heavily. That way the seeds simply won’t be able to germinate.

Another possibility is to harvest the flowers for cut flower arrangements. That too ensures that no seed capsules mature. The cut flowers themselves are pleasantly scented; it’s the cut stem that delivers a garlicky smell upon harvest. Plunge their base into in cold water and the smell will quickly dissipate.

In the Kitchen

I’ll leave any recipes to real chefs. Suffice it to say that it’s the leaves of garlic chives that are usually used in cooking. Just chop them up and use them when you need a bit of a garlicky tang. However, the flower stems, flowers and flower buds are just as delicious. You can harvest the leaves up to 3 or 4 times the first year and pretty much at will the following years, since removing them doesn’t seem to harm the plant’s health and it quickly grows replacements. You can also dry them for winter use.

Garlic chives: beautiful, delicious and easy to grow. You might want to try them in your own garden!