Invasive Balloon Flower Takes Over the Garden

Today I tweeted that it would be good to pull weeds since it had rained buckets for the past few days, thus decreasing the heat and humidity and loosening the soil. For me, the time was ripe to pull an invasive plant from my garden, balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus). “Balloon flowers?” you say, “but it has such pretty blue flowers and the kids love to pop those inflated buds.” Yes, my kids did like to pop the buds on my original plants as they walked to the front door and yes, they do produce pretty blue flowers on tall stems all summer long. But after 10 years, the kids don’t see them anymore (because their heads are always bent down viewing their iPhones) and the original four have multiplied into hundreds, crowding out my other perennials in my Virginia garden.

original four plants have multiplied on left side of walkway and have tan seed pods (directly across walkway is one balloon flower from front garden bed)

Part of problem is that balloon flowers self-seed very fast. The plants could be deadheaded to prevent self-seeding but this is a nerve racking, time consuming task. Each single seed pod has to be clipped off in order to leave the remaining buds or open blossoms. It is not possible to whack the entire plants down a foot. And part of the problem is that they are deer-resistant, drought-resistant, and generally pest free but the worst part is that balloon flowers have long, large tap roots. Breaking off the stem just encourages more stems to grow from the root. Although it is easier to pull and dig after it rains, I still spent hours pulling and digging to get the whole roots out as much as I could. I suspect I did not dig deep enough though, there probably are pieces in the soil that will rise again like the phoenix.

seeds landed on front strip across walkway (blooming with blue flowers)

Interestingly, I have found little reference to its invasive attribute on the internet. I did learn that the Kitazawa Seed Company catalog sells them and according to their description, the root, called doraji, is used in Korean cuisine. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory to treat colds and is considered a cheap ginseng substitute. The root can be dried and packaged for sale in Asian markets.

Unless you want to grow your own doraji for medicinal or culinary reasons, don’t plant this invasive perennial in your garden no matter how much fun you have popping the balloons.

pulling to reveal tap root


26 responses to “Invasive Balloon Flower Takes Over the Garden

  1. I have not had that experience at all with my balloon flowers and I’ve had mine for 7 years! They are a delight and a faithful bloomer! They have not become invasive at all. They are drought resistant and so unique. I’ve received many compliments on them. I had them up in MI and down here in SC. I would highly encourage flower lovers everywhere to plant them!

    • I am glad you have not had issues with the balloon flowers. I am still pulling mine up!

    • Do not encourage people to plant this invasive flower everywhere. That is the most irresponsible thing you could do. Have some common sense. We should be encouraging people to plant native wildflowers, not invasive exotic species from Eurasia.

      • My last sentence of the article is: “Unless you want to grow your own doraji for medicinal or culinary reasons, don’t plant this invasive perennial in your garden no matter how much fun you have popping the balloons.”

  2. I can’t remember when I purchased them but they seem to be everywhere. They only bloom in the morning and have very slimy stems. Not sure if I can dig them up or is it best to kill them with a herbiside or vinegar. They are an eyesore. I live in Malvern PA and would like to be rid of them!
    realtor Grace

    • They have long tap roots so hard to remove, it is one of those plants that if you break it at ground level it will come back. The best I can do is to pull out when the soil is moist and to make sure I cut off any flowering stem.

  3. My critical comment saying “have some sense” was not directed at you, pegplant. It was directed at Beth, who quite literally said ‘I would highly encourage flower lovers everywhere to plant them!” THAT is who I was calling out, not you. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    Take care, and plant native!

  4. I just looked up invasive balloon flowers and found your post. They are taking over my garden and really look terrible when the flowers turn brown. My back is killing me trying to clip all the hundreds of seed pods. Now I have permission to dig them up. Thank you! My other perennials thank you as does my aching back!

    • Yes, clipping off the seed pods prevents but digging them up is even better but very difficult to do

  5. Pingback: balloon flower-a perennial to plant in fall ⋆

  6. Hi, I am a Master Gardener, who has gardened in a variety of places and now in South Florida. I just published a piece on balloon flowers and was interested in your invasive article. I took the liberty of adding a warning and a link to your piece. I appreciate finding it. I live in a place where many otherwise lovely plants are invasive and we are always interested in the problem. Thanks again, Jane Monti

  7. Kentucky. I have not had an invasive problem. I put down weed preventive in my flower gardens 2-3 times a year. Maybe this has prevented the seeds from germinating. My biggest issue is I have some wild critters that are drawn to them and they disappear overnight. Always replacing from the garden center.

  8. I hate them & always have & unfortunately, the people next door have a dozen or more that have spread to my yard. I almost gave up this Spring & was going to let them grow but then I remembered they were overtaking my other flowers so yesterday, I pulled them all up. The flowers are pretty but I hate the rest of the plant & all the million of seeds they send out! I can’t believe they are sold in garden centers!

  9. Julie Bingaman

    I have had these beautiful flower in my garden for 15 years now and they have never spread or become invasive. Maybe I’m lucky , I don’t know. They are truly beautiful and everyone who sees them loves them. Maybe we are talking about two different plants. I know that the Chinese lantern plants are extremely invasive but never before heard of balloon plants be invasive.

  10. I love my balloon flowers and only came across this site because I was looking to see if they would self-seed which is what I would like them to do. Mine are not at all invasive (at least not yet.) My garden is in Montreal, Quebec.

    • It may be because you are in a colder area. The flowers are pretty but they are taking over my garden in Zone 7 Virginia

  11. I have them too – in zone 5 Indiana. The roots are so tenacious that I can’t pull them or dig them. They go so deep that by biggest garden fork wont turn them up. I’m going to try RoundUp next. If you have any other ways to destroy them – please send! Mary Morrison

  12. Mary, all I have ever heard about round up is that it can and has been linked to cause cancer. Please be safe in your decision.

  13. Mine were planted many years ago & I don’t remember the variety. There are many, some growing tall enough to have to be staked, while mine are 8″-10″ tall but get bushy. They don’t self-seed & I wish they would. I’ve read articles & watched videos on balloon flower growing & care & they vary dramatically, even for the same variety (grandiflora). Some say to plant in rich, well drained soil & ours are planted in red clay that’s never had any amendments. Some say to plant in sun, some in shade, & some in part sun – ours get full sun for abt 10 hrs a day. We’re in SC – the upper part of the state which gradually gets more & mountainous until reaching the mountains of NC – fewer than 60 miles – but have relatively mild winters. So, it appears balloon flowers aren’t really all that picky. (We used to be in Zone 7 but have been reclassified as zone 8. And have had absulutely no problems with the balloon flowers – wish we could find some of the pink or white. Planning to try collecting seeds this year – the pods are to be left on until they turn brown but it’s hard enough to resist deadheading when they’ve just begun to turn tan.

    • Yes I have noticed that some people do not seem to have problems with them and the flowers are pretty.

    • Colleen Rushmore State

      I have pink ones here in South Dakota. If I can get some seeds this year I would gladly send you some. I am hoping to get some blue or others to mix in with mine so if you have those I would love some seeds.

  14. Oh, well! I just bought three balloon flower plants at my local nursery as part of a much larger purchase of native plants.(Asters and Butterfly Weed). I guess, I will return them tomorrow. By the way, the invasion I have is Yarrow. Mine started out as white, pink and pale yellow. Now all I have is mostly the white. To each our own ‘Invasion’!

    • I have yarrow too but it is not aggressive and the small flowers support beneficial insects and pollinators

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