How to Control or Get Rid of Chinese Lanterns

They're pretty in crafts, but invasive in real life

Chinese lantern plants bear a pod (image) that's striking. But they're toxic and invasive.
David Beaulieu

Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) are invasive perennial plants grown for their colorful and delicate orange pods, which, true to the common name, remind one of those paper lanterns sometimes used to decorate with. Here's the problem with growing these plants: using rhizomes, they can easily spread out of control in your landscaping, causing you more headaches in landscape maintenance than their beauty and uniqueness warrants.

There is no magic bullet to use to control and/or kill Chinese lanterns. The best advice we can give is to employ a variety of methods (underground barriers, herbicide sprays, digging, smothering tarps) and to be as persistent as the plant is. 

3 Ways to Get Rid of Chinese Lanterns

In the case of Chinese lanterns (as with other invasives that spread via rhizomes), eradication efforts must largely focus on the root system. Also expect to be battling this aggressive spreader for an extended period of time, as you would, for example, the notorious spreader, Japanese knotweed. Here's what we recommend doing:

Use an Herbicide

You can use an herbicide (such as glyphosate) to get rid of Chinese lanterns. Herbicides don't discriminate about what plants they affect, so you may accidentally kill some of your other plants in the process of killing the Chinese lanterns.

Dig Out the Roots

Even if you do apply an herbicide as part of your eradication approach, you can still supplement it with other control methods. You have to assume that at least part of the root system will live on to fight another day. Digging out the root system is a good choice. Make sure you try to get every last scrap of root out of there, though, because, otherwise, they'll regenerate. To accomplish this, it helps to sift the dirt, so that you can go over it with a fine tooth comb.

Starve the Root System

Sometimes, in spite of your best effort, new shoots still pop up. You'll have to take care of these as soon as possible, lest they send nutrients back down to the root system. The idea is to starve the root system over time. You can try covering the recalcitrant shoots with something (such as a tarp) that would smother them, depriving them of sunlight—again, as folks might do to kill Japanese knotweed.

Remove Plants Until Chinese Lanterns Are Gone

Until eradication is complete, don't plant anything else near the Chinese lanterns. You might even want to consider digging up and potting (temporarily) any existing plants there that are in too close a contact with the Chinese lanterns. This will accomplish two things:

  1. If you choose to continue using an herbicide, you can do so without worrying about accidentally killing your flowers. Sometimes repeated sprayings of herbicides are required (over the course of years) to achieve eradication for some of the tougher invasive plants.
  2. You can avoid having the lantern rhizomes getting all tangled up with the root systems of your good plants.

Preventing Chinese Lanterns from Spreading

To isolate the Chinese lanterns and keep them from spreading any further, corral them with some kind of barrier.

Alternatively, you could avoid the spreading problem all together by just planting them in a container instead of in the ground.

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  1. Guide to Poisonous Plants - Chinese Lantern. Colorado State University Website