Fifty Ways to Lose. . .That Special Plant
Maybe not 50, but the couple dozen methods below have been extensively field-tested over a thirty-year period by seasoned experts (the author and fellow gardeners) whose experience and credentials are unshakeable.
Let’s count the ways.
(Photos of plants you see here are the survivors, many with tales to tell.)
1. By far the quickest, No-Work Method. Buy that Special Plant with Good Intentions. Then leave it in the pot somewhere and forget to water it. Very effective. Later, if you happen to notice the Shriveled Special Plant and have a change of heart, you can dunk it in a pail and use the Soak-It-For-Several-Hours (or Days, if you forget again) remedy. Wait a while (hopefully you will not forget about the plant again) for some sign of green, and if seen, rely on Good Intentions for further treatment. Or, you could just bury it in the trash.
2. Corollary to #1 but requires more work and may take longer. Put the Special Plant directly in the garden as soon as you purchase it, water it well, and forget about it. July or August should take care of the rest.
3. Plant too deep. This promotes crown rot. After some months, maybe years, the Special Plant, which has never really thrived even though you tried to water and fertilize it more or less regularly, will have a sad, wilted look. A gardener can speed up the rot process by giving the plant copious water. (Gardeners feel virtuous when they think they can revive wilted plants by watering them — it’s an ocd with them — so you can consider watering to be a mission of mercy, even if it doesn’t work.)
4. Plant in poorly drained soil. This is the Dry-Out-or-Drown Treatment, something like extreme waterboarding over alternating rainy and droughty spells. Eventually the roots give up and rot. This may come under the category of illegal torture for a Special Plant but there are no penalties as of this writing.
5. Give your Special Plant Special TLC by spraying it–oops! That was supposed to be fertilizer, not weed killer. Best if spray containers with chemicals are marked – the smell test doesn’t always work.
6. Corollary to Method #5. Spray herbicide on weeds growing around the Special Plant. “But I swear there was not a bit of breeze.” Get the drift? On the flip side, now you can buy another Special Plant to replace the original, and you have a chance at trying #1 again.
7. Plant under a big tree. This can be a long and lingering death and really not worth the time and effort, as big trees always win. You know you are in trouble if you have to use a pickaxe to get through the roots to make a hole. (Having said all this, even as I write, and after much discussion and even more chopping, we are implementing #7. Folly of follies, we are planting under large native trees where ferns and quince — test plants — have already languished. As I was saying, we are experts at this.)
8. Your Special Plant is potbound but you buy it anyway because it is on Special. This gives you a head start on losing it as most of the roots are already dead and the ones that are alive can’t escape the tangled death trap. If you like to take bets on long shots, you can tear into the mess of roots with a sharp knife and wrestle them apart until one or two limp, white roots appear. Unfortunately, you must delay further treatment for the plant because you are now in such pain you need a trip to the hospital for emergency rotator cuff surgery.
9. Corollary to #8. If you are feeling in the mood to rescue a plant, you can buy a Sad Sack from the Sale Rack. Be aware that you are already starting with a handicap. The “I can do it, I can revive this plant” dedication is an extreme reaction to subconscious guilt among gardeners at the number of plants they may have already killed using Methods #1 or #2. Note that frequenters of Sad Sack Racks are generally optimists in the habit of saying, “These plants just need a little TLC.”
10. Pile on the mulch to kill the weeds and because everyone else in the neighborhood is doing it. This is a non-intuitive way of killing a plant, as you think you are being virtuous, industrious and aesthetically correct all at the same time. Too much of a good thing can choke off the oxygen that roots need and smother plants. You can also promote crown rot if the mulch is touching the stems of the plant. See Method #3 for a discussion of crown rot.
11. Corollary to #10. The surest way to lose Special Plants like azaleas or rhododendrons is to dress them up with a mulch of marble chips. Marble chips leach lime, and these acid-loving plants cannot tolerate treatments with lime. I once saw a pretty little bed of rhododendrons mulched with marble chips slowly give up the ghost over a couple of years. I never suggested a change of landscaping to the owner because he and his nurseryman had Mafia connections.
12. Fall in love with a stand-out plant that nobody in your neck of the woods grows. (There’s usually a reason why.) People will stop and say admiringly, “What is that Special Plant?” Pretty soon they will say, “What is that Special Stick?” And after a while you will have a ready-made hole for a new Special Plant.
13. Promise to coddle a plant that is tender in your zone, or whose foliage is ice cream for deer, or whose roots are veggies for voles, etc., etc., etc. Since we all know that Good Intentions precede lost plants, you have not damaged your instincts for losing plants.
14. Step on the plant. Hard. Not intentionally, of course. Accidentally, when you are working in a bed with small plants and you have taken a vow to watch where you step, but you are clumsy and you forget that pretty salvia when you are backing out of the bed. I claim temporary loss of balance due to age as an excuse, so I don’t come off as an out-and-out klutz. You can choose your own excuse, if you must.
15. A super easy way to kill a Special Plant, almost as easy as Method #1, is to pull it out because you mistake it for a weed. (Sometimes we are not as alert in the garden as we think we are.) If you realize it quickly enough, and you have regrets because you rather liked that particular Special Plant, you can search among your piles of weeds until you locate the unfortunate. Which you will recognize easily as it is probably the only wilted plant among otherwise healthy-looking weeds. Then replant it with blessings. Alternatively, you may not realize the loss until the piles are gone. Or, you may not realize the loss until much later, after you have forgotten that you ever weeded the area, in which case you can put another notch in your trowel for mastering Method #15.
16. Plant a sun-lover in shade, or vice versa. Plant a moisture-lover in dry soil, or vice versa. Because, after all, directions for planting are only suggestions. This gives you such variety of lethal methods. You can fry’em, crisp’em, drown’em, starve’em, or just let ‘em drop. Caution: These methods do not always work. Some plants have not read books and may actually rise to the challenge of environmental hostility.
17. Corollary to #16. Locate a plant in the perfect spot after you’ve done all your homework. Confound it, it dies, when it absolutely should have lived. Just goes to show how excellent your instincts are.
18. Corollary to #17. You have not found the perfect spot for that Special Plant yet, so you heel it in somewhere, only temporary digs, mind you, but enough effort to forestall death by Method #1. You keep looking for the perfect spot, and maybe it takes a year or so, maybe more. By now you may have forgotten about the plant, or it may have died, or, quite possibly the plant has put out roots to China and beyond and is thriving. In which case your only choice is to leave it in this imperfect spot, or excavate it and proceed with any of the methods listed here.
19. Occasionally you may feel pangs of guilt over your success. In which case, you can put a plant in rich soil when it would prefer lean soil. To compound matters, you can over-feed it until it gasps “No more!” This is called No-Guilt gardening because you have worked hard doing all the “right” things.
20. You may want to hide your air conditioner or heat exchanger behind plants. This may sound like an excellent landscaping idea. There is, however, usually something like a cyclone around these installations, with lots of hot air, which (like people) many plants dislike. Experimenting with a variety of plants in these conditions gives you so many ways to expand your repertoire of plant annihilation.
21. Forget where you’ve planted something, or even that you ever planted it. To forestall this memory lapse, sane gardeners put labeled stakes next to the plant, or they keep records with dates, kind of like family trees (no pun intended). Insane gardeners with short memories simply rely on the Superior Memory Method to remember, which ultimately dooms the plant. Occasionally, however, the forgotten plant actually lives. If you happen to be a sane gardener who uses plant markers, but your plant has died despite your good records, by all means, leave the marker in place, as it now becomes a memorial.
22. Ignore suggestions about spacing plants. One never seems to have enough room for all those new plants that bewitch you when you shop in spring. Strange elixirs in the air can result in cars packed so tight they develop a green glow. When you sober up, you will have to bear the consequences of your addiction, probably by cramming your purchases into garden ghettos. Still in delirium, you will make some delusional promises to eventually manicure the mob. Before you know it, the sprawlers will riot beyond bounds and the rest will become collateral damage.
23. Wander around the yard with that Special Plant in hand. Ignore the caveat to choose a spot that has moist but well drained soil. You don’t quite know what this means, and anyway, you can’t be expected to keep all these technical terms in your head, so you simply rely on your Infallible Judgment, your Superior Memory, and your Good Intentions.
24. You have a Bundle of Tricks in your bucket now, you will surely be successful.