How gardeners with invasive goutweed are supporting each other

The Goutweed Support Group on Facebook started as a joke, but has become a discussion forum for more than 1,000 battle-weary gardeners from across North America.

P.E.I.'s Goutweed Support Group has more than 1,000 members and is growing quickly

'Someone in the group called it "the cockroach of all weeds,"' says Carla MacDonald-Campbell, who is fighting an invasion of fast-growing goutweed in her garden in Clyde River, P.E.I. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Admittedly, it's a first-world problem, but the struggle is real.

The Goutweed Support Group on Facebook is proof that the invasive plant goutweed is affecting gardeners negatively — physically, mentally and financially. 

"I know it sounds a little dramatic, and in many ways it's very tongue-in-cheek, but that was the whole point of the support group," says Carla MacDonald-Campbell of Clyde River, P.E.I., a home gardener who started the support group as a joke. Now, it has members from P.E.I., Nova Scotia and across North America. 

"The fact that there are more than a thousand people needing a goutweed support group should tell you something … this is just people at their wit's end." 

"The main purpose of the group is for us to share our frustrations … none of us are pretending to be professionals," she added. 

Since 2017 the group has become a discussion forum for gardeners to share their tips, tricks, solutions and just plain frustration with the fast-growing, hard-to-kill plant. 

"If it's in your backyard and you garden at all, then you're annoyed with it," MacDonald-Campbell said. "It spreads very quickly under the ground and gets entangled with the roots of all your other perennials." 

The Goutweed Support Group on Facebook bills itself as 'a place for us to deal with the trauma of goutweed.' (Facebook)

Goutweed has very aggressive rhizomes, underground horizontal roots systems that can travel for several metres and from which new plants pop up to the surface. It tends to proliferate quickly and chokes out other plants and shrubs until it becomes a monoculture —  a yard, a property, sometimes several hectares of nothing but goutweed. 

Every year, MacDonald-Campbell battles the goutweed on her property by digging up and sifting out goutweed roots from the soil by hand. It's back-breaking work and time she'd rather spend doing something else. 

"It's very aggressive," she said. "If you're trying to do a vegetable garden and it's there, you'll never get any real yield out of your produce."

'We don't want a monoculture'

Goutweed is on the P.E.I. Invasive Species Council's plant list, but it's not the number one most wanted invasive plant on P.E.I., because it is already so well established and widespread, having come to North America with European settlers

'We own two acres, and every year it takes up more and more of that surface area. Is there even any chance we can attempt to control this? Or should we just give up and let it happen?' asks Lauren McCaffrey, sharing a photo of her backyard in Beaver Bank, N.S. (Lauren McCaffrey)

"We are really concerned about invasive plants that have limited location distribution or that aren't here yet," says Beth Hoar, the council's chair. "So preventing things from getting here, or trying to control things that are at a very small population."

The council encourages people to try to control goutweed on their properties and prevent it spreading to natural areas, while Hoar acknowledges "goutweed is a pretty tough one to get rid of." 

Hoar has a biology degree, agronomy diploma and is a certified arborist. 

She suggest two ways to try to get rid of goutweed. One is to spread a thick tarpaulin over the area where it is growing. It could take several seasons to die. The weed will get stressed and try to grow outside the tarp, so monitor its edges, Hoar said. 

The other is to dig up the goutweed, which is tricky because the smallest undetected piece of root will reproduce quickly.

'I have spent thousands to attempt get rid of goutweed, more hours than you could imagine over 24 years. Goutweed is considerably devaluing my property,' shares Lynn Wagner, showing how goutweed has taken over her backyard in Halifax. 'To be stuck with this for a yard after working at it so long is a mental health stress. Goutweed does not leave my mind.' (Lynn Wagner)
'We dug a trench, we are tarping and putting down 10 tonnes of gravel. I don’t have a choice ... It is expensive work,' says Wagner. She plans to build some raised garden beds on top of the gravel. (Lynn Wagner)

Digging out an entire area and replacing it with fresh soil leads to the question of how to dispose of the soil: it cannot simply be dumped elsewhere because it will start a new infestation. 

"We don't want a monoculture in our woodlands, so dumping in the woodlands is not a good idea," Hoar said. 

Hoar said the council has worked with Island Waste Management on P.E.I. on disposal of invasive species. Right now Islanders are permitted to put out two clear garbage bags of an invasive species alongside black waste carts every two weeks. The bags must be clearly marked "invasive." Any larger-scale disposal would require consultation with the company.

In some U.S. jurisdictions, sellers must disclose whether they have invasive Japanese knotweed growing on their property, she notes. Right now the only invasive plant whose sale and growing is forbidden by law is purple loosestrife. 

"We just have to think about what we're planting and how we're going to contain that in our yard," Hoar said. 

Goutweed prevention tips

Don't have goutweed, and don't want it?

Beware of taking or buying plants from anyone else, advises MacDonald-Campbell — goutweed was introduced in her garden via a hosta given to her by a friend.

'We just have to think about what we're planting,' says Beth Hoar, chair of the P.E.I. Invasive Species Council. (Pat Martel/CBC)

She suggests putting any new perennials or bushes, even those from a garden centre, in a pot outside and watching them for a few months, "just to make sure that there aren't any hangers-on," not just goutweed but other invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed. 

If you are engaged in a battle with goutweed, wash your garden tools afterward to prevent spreading it on your own property. 

If you see it for sale at a garden centre, bring to their attention it is an invasive plant, she said. 

If you are shopping for a new home, some in the group even suggest viewing potential properties only in the spring and summer, to see if goutweed is present. If you're looking forward to gardening on the property, goutweed can quickly dash those dreams, MacDonald-Campbell said. 

And some in the support group say, if you can't beat it, eat it. 

"It is edible apparently — I think I would choke on it" MacDonald-Campbell said. 

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Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at