Gardening Mistake #12: The Annual That Ate Your Backyard!

squash and lavender

Is that a lavender bush cowering under the monster squash leaves?

I just thought of another mistake: allowing annuals, whether they be volunteers or valued vegetables, to overrun the garden and smother your perennial plants. This happens to us more than we’d care to admit.

It’s really easy to miss. In the spring, you’re so happy to see lush growth erupting all over your yard, that you’re not looking at it with a critical eye. Also, plants are sneaky. One day they’re nowhere near that little sage seedling you planted, the next day, they’ve swallowed it, and you’ve forgotten it was even there– and you won’t remember until you find its sad, withered skeleton when you’re cleaning out the faded annuals at the end of the season.

Generally, our worst culprit is the rampant nasturtium. This year, though, the serial killer prize goes to our meandering squash plants, which are doing their best to cover everything in our yard less than knee high with their 15″ leaves.

This morning I wanted to cut back a squash vine which had done some damage to a patch of yarrow and was reaching for my succulent zone. Erik threw his body across it and said I’d have to prune him first. As we all know, he’s a little crazy when it comes to squash.  I want a plaque inscribed above the garden gate: “Perennials Before Annuals. That is the Whole of the Law.”

Have you lost plants to rampant annuals?

squash vines in front of door

And by the way, I’ve given up on entering our back shed ’til harvest.

Leave a comment


  1. Morning Glories.

    Every spring, I begin my annual struggle to ruthlessly pull and mulch the little demon seedlings to keep the MG in only the place I want. It feels like a season-long battle with the forces of darkness. If I don’t, the vines strangle everything in their path and twist their tendrils around the asparagus, tomatoes, strawberries – I’ll bet if we stood still for a few minutes they’d come after us, too.

    • I’ve seen the terror of the morning glories, but oddly enough, I tried to start a vine this year (I know, crazy, right?) and it didn’t make it. It acted like a delicate exotic. Lesson: they only grown when you don’t want them.

    • Yes! I have ten generations going strong of the original Heavenly Blue that reverted to a purple type and a smaller blue type. Love/hate them. They take over in ways I never imagined.

  2. “Perennials Before Annuals. That is is the Whole of the Law.”

    I absolutely must have this sign for my garden. Must. Non-negotiable. I’m off to bug some of my craftsy friends to see what I can connive. (I come bearing fresh eggs, honey, and armloads of squash!)

  3. This is exactly what our community garden plot looks like right now.I swear that squash has some sort of intelligence. Both the pumpkin and the butternut not only spread everywhere, crushed everything, but did it while producing perfectly spaced fruit at exact intervals. Intervals that do not allow me to prune them back to a measurable level without defeating the purpose of planting them in the first place. I can have my now dead peas back but not eat squash. I could harvest my tomatillo plants without having to do some super weird hopping dance, but not have squash. I could MAYBE enjoy some new potatoes, or not have squash. We happen to like squash…and I think that it knows it.

    • I know! It’s so hard to cut it back, esp. when your spouse is dead set against it. 😉 Winter squash just aren’t meant for confined spaces. It’s hard to accept that, though, because they’re so fun to grow. Perhaps there is some way to grow it straight up, on trellises??

    • If ever plant squash or pumpkin, they will have a bed of their own. My neighbor who was 94 when she died always planted squash at the edge of the shrubs. Now, I know why! I learned a great lesson from Mrs. H. and Shannon’s comment: Put squash and pumpkin in Isolation.

      Lesson noted and learned.

  4. I laughed so hard at this. But I still have squash envy. I wouldn’t care if it took over my whole yard.

    • Yeah, you say that now…but wait until you spend three months tiptoeing through your yard, search for buried plants, tools, hoses, traveling salesmen…

    • Mrs. H. I have to say you gave me my belly laugh for the day! Do you still get traveling salesmen in your neck of the woods? We do. I think I’ll put some squash plants in my front yard. Maybe they will get covered up before they get to my door. Hope they eat organic!

  5. I planted some marigolds to help with pest management in with my butternut squash, and the marigolds became so large they kept three or four (out of eight!) squash plants tiny and living in their shadow. Normally I would be concerned, but since my pumpkin crop is a bumper one, we will not lack in winter squash this year. So I let the marigolds grow, golden and lovely, and will content myself with having a total of just four butternut squash to harvest.

  6. Everything wants to swallow my asparagus. This spring it was the pea plants. Now it’s the cucumbers. I swear I only planted two, but the one by the asparagus patch is a lemon cuke of amazing vigor.

    I’ve been training it up bamboo poles (untwining its little tendrils and re-twining them around the poles is delicate, fussy work but very rewarding) and it was behaving very well.

    Then we went out of town for a week (naturalist training). I told the house/cat/garden sitter that she needed to keep an eye on the cucumbers. She harvested some, but the let them run all over the place. I had to remove nearly two-thirds of the mass of the plants to get them off the kale, strawberries, carrots, basil and asparagus. In the process, inevitably, I found many extremely large, ripe cukes.

    Thank goodness curcubits are annuals. If they were could live for more than one year, there would be no room for any other plants or animals.

  7. One year I planted cleomes in my landscape, and they went to seed. I spent the next few years living in ‘cleome hell’ as I described it. They popped up everywhere! The only other thing that takes over my garden is, depressingly, weeds. This has to be the hardest place to garden! The rain shuts off in early July (unless we get a hurricane in the gulf) and the bugs are everywhere! coming in waves. I have 70 kale seedlings on my porch right now that I’m afraid (afraid!) to set out because my adult kale is nothing but skeletonized leaves. Sorry, feeling a bit sorry for myself gardenwise today.

  8. Cammomille. Annual or not, plant one little teensy pinch of cammomille seed and a few years later you will think that’s all that is growing in your garden. You’ll have enough for tea for the entire town!

    • I wish I could get chamomile to grow well in my yard. It used to self-seed politely, but then just up and quit. I tried planting seed last year and it didn’t take. It’s always feast or famine, isn’t it?

  9. yep – the squash took over this year…and it wasnt the squash i actually planted….my squash plant was reasonable but two volunteers completely swallowed the entire garden….
    im gonna plant them in the field next year and i guess i will have to murder any volunteers that show up in the actual garden 🙁 or attempt to transpant but i heard squash dont like that.

    • I’d advocate murder. Squash is a promiscuous inter-breeder (it will even cross with melon) so those invading vines may not produce anything worth eating.

Comments are closed.