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|Graves At Dawes Arboretum|
If I looked at the list in my Plant Cemetery I might be led to believe I have a black thumb instead of a green one. I’ve lost that many plants. This is not a confession to relieve my conscience, but an illustration of one of the many realities of working with living things, of what it is to be a gardener- even if you never lose as many plants as I, sadly, have.
But instead of blaming yourself, like many would-be gardeners often do, you might take a closer look at your climate and soil conditions and even the expected lifespans of the plants.
In other words, it might not be you. Although in one sense, it does depend on our choices. Yet, with all the hype about the “ease” and sure success of offered plants, how can we genuinely expect to avoid some sure failures?
I’m writing this to set your mind at ease. Loss of plants is the part of the gardening experience that most garden enthusiasts don’t want to talk about. However, it happens, as sure as the sun rises.
|Native Rudbeckia, prob. ‘maxima’. Likely to survive.|
We are all told to improve our soil, and some of us follow that good advice and add all sorts of yummy (for the plant) amendments. I don’t know if anyone double digs the soil anymore, but some of us old-timers did. We find the micro-climates and we plant with high hopes.
Sometimes that is enough.
But if you live with soils that have high clay content, or strong pH proclivities towards either acid or alkaline conditions it could spell death for certain plants. Being something of a plant collector in the sense I tried most anything that caught my fancy, or seemed like I must possess, so I had plenty of tough lessons in failures of this sort. That is why I will never try to plant azaleas and heathers, again, no matter how they call out to me in siren tones of beauty and fragrance.
If you choose to ignore the matching of plant need to soil conditions such as pH or whether light or heavy, you will likely suffer eventual loss of that plant. Maybe it will simply not thrive, but here in Ohio it will get a double whammy of some sort and outright die. Usually it is some combination of the improper soil needs, the addition of a bad drought or that really, really freezing cold snap that separates the hardy from the “would -be”.
That brings me to the thing most ignored of all nature’s realities. We don’t understand climate in the garden- I am convinced of that. After seeing a superb documentary on the ‘Dust Bowl’, I was struck by how climate patterns stretch over decades or more, and when we introduce foreign plants and cultivation techniques we can unknowingly brew a recipe for disaster. In our own gardens, over the short lifetimes of our garden work it isn’t always obvious, but the lost trees or perennials sometimes yield a warning that we are doing something contrary to the balance between ecological realities.
Sometimes it is simply a hard lesson like the year I lost my Chinese Chestnuts. My garden gets too cold for some things, not just because it drops to minus ridiculous numbers, but because the ground is often wet, the winds blow without any snow cover to blunt their desiccating powers, and other such factors.
And I slowly learn.
Are you trying to convince me not to garden?
Not at all. When we live in climate-controlled buildings and cars for the majority of our existence we start to imagine things about the power we have to rule nature. And that starts to seep into our yards and landscapes.
Sometimes your plants die because they were never meant to live as long as you imagine they should. Or under conditions you place them in. Or because there are things in nature that are out of your control…. no matter how much you spray, fertilize, and prune.
What’s The Answer? I Don’t Like Plants To Die!
None of us do, but I suppose one starting place is to accept that sometimes your garden plans don’t go as expected, and times change, while plants sometimes die, and will certainly grow without much interference from us caretakers.
Yet, with skills and effort, we do make a difference over he conditions we can control. And that makes us gardeners. Learn, keep learning, and don’t lose hope or think that you have a black thumb.
One thing to learn is the native conditions of plants and match your garden with the right plants as much as you are capable of doing. Nurseries should help you with this, and if you ask questions and go to reputable ones, they will.
And most of all, don’t give up. Keep on planting.
Life is worth nurturing and enjoying, even if we can’t always hold onto it as we would.
|After many years, I lost the ‘Fairy’s Petticoat’ phlox|
Some Reasons Your Plants Have Died
- soil too dry
- soil too soggy
- too much sun
- too little sun
- soil not fertile enough
- fertilizer burn (too much fertilizer)
- not hardy enough for your climate zone
- damage from storms
- lost to drought
- crowded out by weeds or other plants
- short lived plant
- wrong conditions for growth ( pH, etc.)
- insect damage