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Lush garden with a variety of flowers. iStock

Alternatives to Attractive Invasives

Not all popular plants deserve their good reputations. Take burning bush, for instance. Its scarlet fall foliage has charmed gardeners for generations. But this old favorite has a dark secret: It spreads like wildfire. And while most prolific plants can be kept in check with regular pruning, burning bush belongs to a whole gang of common shrubs that seem set on world domination.

These garden thugs are known as "invasive," a term reserved for any non-native plant that escapes the confines of beds and borders, muscles its way into local ecosystems, crowds out native plants, and, in turn, destroys natural wildlife habitats. Many of these troublemakers are still widely sold at local and mail-order nurseries, but just because you can buy a plant doesn't mean you should. The challenge is to find well-mannered alternatives that are equally ornamental. The following plant suggestions put that quandary to rest for seven of the nation's most noxious shrubs. And now's a great time to make the swap: Shrubs planted in fall's cooler temperatures have a stress-free stretch of weeks to put down roots in preparation for a surge of growth come spring.

Problem Plant: Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon iStock

(Hibiscus syriacus)

Why it's popular: Exotic, late-summer flowers

Where it's Trouble: AR, IN, KY, LA, MD, NJ, PA, VA, WV

Rose of Sharon Alternative: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea iStock

(Hydrangea quercifolia)

Why it's a standout: This Southern native boasts long-lasting white summer blooms that fade to rose. Its oak-leaf-like foliage has great fall color. Grows up to 8 feet tall and wide.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Rose of Sharon Alternative: Confederate Rose

Confederate Rose iStock

(Hibiscus mutabilis)

Why it's a standout: Fall is this shrub's high season, when big ruffled flowers in white and pink tip its branches. Those grown in Zone 8 or colder die back in winter but return each spring as full-size shrubs with new shoots 6 to 8 feet tall.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average soil

Zones: 7 to 10

Rose of Sharon Alternative: Swamp Rose Mallow

Pink Swamp Rose Mallow Alamy

(Hibiscus moscheutos)

Why it's a standout: At the sight of this native's dinner-plate-size flowers, you'll think you've landed in the tropics. The Disco Belle series features flowers in red, pink, or white, while purple-leaved hybrids, such as 'Kopper King,' offer the extra perk of colorful foliage. This shrub dies back in winter but bulks up each summer, growing up to 8 feet tall.

What it needs: Full sun; average to moist soil

Zones: 4 to 9

Problem Plant: Lantana

Lantana camara iStock

(Lantana camara)

Why it's popular: Long-lasting flowers in a range of colors

Where it's Trouble: AZ, FL, LA, SC, TX

Lantana Alternative: Lantana, Sterile Cultivars

Lantana camara Alamy

(Lantana camara)

Why It's a standout: Unlike their self-sowing siblings, new sterile varieties, such as 'New Gold' (shown), won't spawn seedlings. Growing up to 4 feet tall, these long bloomers attract butterflies and come in a rainbow of hues.

What it needs: Full sun; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 8 to 11

Lantana Alternative: 'The Fairy' Rose

The Fairy Rose Alamy

(Rosa 'The Fairy')

Why it's a standout: Easy-care, low-growing, and long-blooming, 'The Fairy' rose has tiny pink blossoms from spring to fall, resists disease, and makes a fanciful groundcover. Up to 3 feet tall and wide.

What it needs: Full sun; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Lantana Alternative: Autumn Sage

Autumn Sage Alamy

(Salvia greggii)

Why it's a standout: It may bear the name autumn sage, but this 3-foot-tall plant actually blooms from early summer all the way into fall. Flowers are usually red and trumpet-like, but you'll also find varieties in pink, purple, and white. A native that hails from the desert of Texas, autumn sage prefers dry weather and can handle freezing temperatures in arid regions.

What it needs: Full sun; dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 6 to 10

Problem Plant: Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush iStock

(Buddleia davidii)

Why it's popular: Fragrant summer flowers that attract pollinators

Where it's Trouble: CA, CT, NJ, NY, OR, PA, WA, WV

Butterfly Bush Alternative: Summersweet

Summersweet Alamy

(Clethra alnifolia)

Why it's a standout: At the height of its summer bloom, you'll smell this spicy-scented shrub before you spot it. Most varieties flower white, but for a splash of pink, try 'Ruby Spice' (shown). This native lures birds, bees, and butterflies, turns gold in fall, and grows, on average, 5 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; prefers average to moist soil but tolerates clay and soggy conditions

Zones: 3 to 9

Butterfly Bush Alternative: Seven-Son Flower

Seven-Son Flower Alamy

(Heptacodium miconioides)

Why it's a standout: This underused gem flaunts fragrant white blooms through late summer, followed by pink-purple fruit in fall and an attractive display of cream-colored peeling bark in winter. Naturally a very large, 20-foot-tall by 10-foot-wide shrub, it can serve as a small tree with a little pruning.

What it needs: Full sun; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Butterfly Bush Alternative: 'Miss Kim' Korean Lilac

Korean Lilac Alamy

(Syringa pabescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim')

Why it's a standout: Adored for its rafts of decadently fragrant, lavender-pink flowers, 'Miss Kim' blooms on the cusp of summer (later than most lilacs), making it an excellent substitute for butterfly bush. It keeps a tidy shape as it grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, and wraps up each season with a display of burgundy fall foliage.

What it needs: Full sun; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 3 to 8

Problem Plant: Burning Bush

Burning Bush iStock

(Euonymus alatus)

Why it's popular: Scarlet fall foliage

Where it's Trouble: CT, IL, IN, KY, ME, MD, MA, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TN, VT, VA, WV, WI

Burning Bush Alternative: Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac Alamy

(Rhus aromatica)

Why it's a standout: The fall color on this native is off the charts, and it also dons bunches of cream blossoms in spring. Female plants offer fuzzy red summer berries that birds devour. Most varieties grow 2 to 6 feet tall and will slowly colonize a 6-foot area.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 3 to 9

Burning Bush Alternative: Blueberry

Blueberries Alamy

(Vaccinium corymbosum), shown, and (V. ashei)

Why it's a standout: The native blueberry is best known for its sweet fruit, but the beauty of this shrub is too often overlooked. Both species come in a variety of sizes and promise bright fall foliage and bell-shaped spring flowers.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained, acidic soil

Zones: 3 to 9

Burning Bush Alternative: Virginia Sweetspire

Virginia Sweetspire Alamy

(Itea virginica)

Why it's a standout: The blazing fall foliage on this native is just one of its many virtues. Topping off at just 5 feet, this adaptable shrub tolerates boggy soil, clay, and dense shade. In summer, it puts on a brilliant show of fragrant white flowers; in winter, its bare red stems continue to attract attention.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; prefers moist soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Problem Plant: Barberry

Japanese Barberry Alamy

(Berberis thunbergii)

Why it's popular: Red, purple, or gold foliage offers an alternative to green.

Where it's Trouble: CT, DE, IL, IN, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, VT, VA, WV, WI

Barberry Alternative: Ninebark

Ninebark iStock

(Physocarpus opulifolius)

Why it's a standout: This rugged native offers snowball-like flowers in spring and foliage in several bright hues. The 4-foot-tall 'Little Devil' (shown) is a burgundy-clad dwarf that makes an especially good substitute for barberry. Most other varieties grow up to 8 feet tall and wide.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 2 to 8

Barberry Alternative: Weigela

Pink Weigela iStock

(Weigela florida)

Why it's a standout: Weigela sports sumptuously colored leaves in shades of red, purple, gold, or cream, depending on the variety. And in spring, these beauties produce trumpet-like flowers in a range of pinks. The 5-foot-tall 'Wine and Roses' (shown) is a common favorite with magenta blooms, merlot-colored foliage, and a compact, rounded shape.

What it needs: Full sun; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 4 to 8

Barberry Alternative: Leucothoe

Leucothoe iStock

(Leucothoe fontanesiana)

Why it's a standout: This underused native shines with mostly glossy evergreen leaves that deer rarely sample. 'Rainbow' (shown) is a variegated variety that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, while 'Scarletta' is a spectacular red-leaved shrub that's up to 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Both flaunt white blooms in spring.

What it needs: Full to partial shade; prefers moist, acidic soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Problem Plant: Chinese Privet

Chinese Privet iStock

(Ligustrum sinense)

Why it's popular: Deer-resistant and excellent as a hedge

Where it's Trouble: AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA

Chinese Privet Alternative: Inkberry

Inkberry GAP Photos/Nova Photo Graphik

(Ilex glabra)

Why it's a standout: This adaptable native makes a fine evergreen hedge, from 3 to 8 feet tall and wide. Prune in early spring to keep plants from growing leggy, or select a compact variety, such as 'Shamrock' or 'Densa.' Deer usually leave the foliage alone, while birds go wild in the fall for its black berries.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; rich, acidic soil

Zones: 4 to 9

Chinese Privet Alternative: Texas Ranger

Texas Ranger iStock

(Leucophyllum langmaniae)

Why it's a standout: Drought and heat tolerant, this shrub thrives where many traditional hedging plants struggle. Its branches have lavender flowers from summer to fall and silver or green foliage. 'Rio Bravo' (shown) is extra-compact, while 'Lynn's Legacy' has bigger blooms; both grow 5 feet tall and wide.

What it needs: Full sun; dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 8 to 11

Chinese Privet Alternative: Abelia

Abelia x grandiflora Alamy

(Abelia x grandiflora)

Why it's a standout: Easily shaped, this shrub forms a 3- to 6-foot-tall hedge and blooms in summer with fragrant white flowers. Varieties include solid-green-leaved plants as well as brightly variegated ones, such as 'Kaleidoscope' (shown). For full branching, give abelia a sunny spot and prune regularly.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Problem Plant: Saltcedar

Saltcedar Alamy

(Tamarix ramosissima)

Why it's popular: Summer flowers and fine-textured leaves

Where it's Trouble: AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, NE, NV, NM, ND, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA

Saltcedar Alternative: Smoke Bush

Smoke Bush iStock

(Cotinus coggygria)

Why it's a standout: In summer, a lather of rosy flowers tops this 15-foot-tall shrub; in fall, its leaves turn bright shades of red and orange. For a purple-leaved variety, try 'Royal Purple' or the hybrid 'Grace.'

What it needs: Full sun; average to dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 5 to 9

Saltcedar Alternative: Desert Willow

Desert Willow iStock

(Chilopsis linearis)

Why it's a standout: Boasting wispy foliage and long-lasting blooms, this fast-growing native grows up to 35 feet tall and is covered from spring to fall with sweet-scented pink flowers that attract hummingbirds.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 6 to 9

Saltcedar Alternative: Fernbush

Fernbush Alamy

(Chamaebatiaria millefolium)

Why it's a standout: A tough, drought-resistant native of the Southwest, this 3- to 5-foot-tall shrub boasts fern-like silvery leaves that are evergreen in mild climates and release a spicy fragrance when brushed against. In summer, it flaunts pointed clusters of rose-like flowers, and in fall, cool temperatures turn its foliage a sunny yellow.

What it needs: Full sun; dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 4 to 8

Problem Plant: Scotch Broom

Scotch Broom iStock

(Cytisus scoparius)

Why it's popular: Fragrant spring flowers and fine-textured foliage

Where it's Trouble: CA, CT, ID, MD, MA, MT, NJ, NY, NC, OR, PA, SC, TN, VA, WA

Scotch Broom Alternative: Shadbush

Shadbush iStock

(Amelanchier)

Why it's a standout: All you really need to know about this native is that it has a canopy of white flowers in spring, followed by berries you can eat (if birds don't beat you to them) and a grand finale of showy orange-red leaves. For the best fall foliage, try 'Autumn Brilliance.' At 15 to 25 feet tall and wide, this shrub requires some room but is easily pruned.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist, well-drained soil

Zones: 4 to 9

Scotch Broom Alternative: Rosemary

Rosemary iStock

(Rosmarinus officinalis)

Why it's a standout: For fine texture and delicate flowers, look no further than edible rosemary. Ranging from 2 to 6 feet tall, this Mediterranean beauty is evergreen, drought resistant, and salt tolerant. It rarely tempts deer and grows well in beds or pots. 'Tuscan Blue' (shown) is known for its long-lasting flowers, while 'Arp' is more cold hardy than other varieties, tolerating Zone 6.

What it needs: Full sun; average to dry, well-drained soil

Zones: 7 to 10

Scotch Broom Alternative: Vernal Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel Alamy

(Hamamelis vernalis)

Why it's a standout: Witch hazel is legendary for its spicy-scented flowers, but this species blooms earlier and longer than most, sporting bicolor flowers from late winter to early spring. In summer, its green foliage meshes well with other plants and then takes center stage in fall, turning a brilliant yellow. This shrub grows 6 to 10 feet tall but accepts pruning readily.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist, well-drained, acidic soil

Zones: 4 to 8

Scotch Broom Alternative: Vernal Witch Hazel

Vernal Witch Hazel Alamy

(Hamamelis vernalis)

Why it's a standout: Witch hazel is legendary for its spicy-scented flowers, but this species blooms earlier and longer than most, sporting bicolor flowers from late winter to early spring. In summer, its green foliage meshes well with other plants and then takes center stage in fall, turning a brilliant yellow. This shrub grows 6 to 10 feet tall but accepts pruning readily.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist, well-drained, acidic soil

Zones: 4 to 8

Problem Plant: Shrub Honeysuckle

Shrub Honeysuckle iStock

(Lonicera maackii, L. morrowii, and L. tatarica)

Why it's popular: Fragrant spring flowers, followed by red fruit

Where it's Trouble: CT, IL, IN, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OH, PA, RI, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY

Shrub Honeysuckle Alternative: Mock Orange

Mock Orange iStock

(Philadelphus)

Why it's a standout: Mock orange's white spring flowers are a favorite for butterflies and have a delicious citrus scent. This shrub also boasts pretty peeling bark, which you can show off by pruning out a few lower limbs. Varieties can grow up to 10 feet tall, but for smaller gardens, try 'Miniature Snowflake,' a double-flowered cultivar that stands just 3 feet tall.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average, well-drained soil

Zones: 4 to 8

Shrub Honeysuckle Alternative: Sweet Olive

Sweet Olive iStock

(Osmanthus fragrans)

Why it's a standout: In warm climates, sweet olive's tiny white to orange flowers perfume the air from fall through winter. To make the most of its fragrance, grow this drought-tolerant evergreen near a pathway or an entrance. Sweet olive can reach 8 to 15 feet tall and wide, but it's typically pruned shorter or trained as a tree.

What it needs: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist, well-drained soil

Zones: 8 to 11