Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)

One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?

But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.

What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.

This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.

But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)

But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?


It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.

Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)

Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!

4 thoughts on “Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

  1. tonytomeo February 19, 2018 / 1:01 pm

    ‘Sustainability’! Oh my! It is seriously OLD technology! It is common sense! Yet, that word has become so cliche with overuse. The farther we get from sustainability, they more we use the word to imply that we actually use the technology. Every brochure from every landscape company at every trade show brags about sustainability. Yet, if landscapes really sustained themselves, there would be very little work for landscape companies! Wow, I really should take my rant elsewhere. I was planning to write about my experience with my former work and how we made a mockery of sustainability.

  2. gardendaze February 19, 2018 / 1:18 pm

    I am trying to remember the word that UT Austin uses when evaluating its roses for the EarthKind program. I believe the word is “inputs.” The rose can’t require any additional “inputs”–i.e., water, food or pesticide. It’s basically the same thing but it sounds a little more awkward.

    Whatever we call it, you’re absolutely right. If more people put it into practice, most commercial landscape companies would be out of business.


  3. The Chatsworth Lady February 27, 2018 / 9:15 am

    Omigosh, and here I have been semi-castigating myself for laziness because unless I discover that a given plant has A Problem of some sort, my philosophy has always been one of “benign neglect.” 🙂 But “sustainability” does sound more 21st century, I will admit. 😉 I did fuss over one plant to a ridiculous degree though: a young Franklinia alatahama. I was a helicopter mom to that little guy for 3 years until it FINALLY looked as if it was going to produce its first flower. Then Superstorm Sandy came along and killed it with a 4-day saltwater bath. Sometimes ya just can’t win.

  4. gardendaze February 27, 2018 / 12:00 pm

    Don’t we all fall in love with certain plants regardless of how–or whether–we should grow them? That’s why I have almost 200 house plants .
    I really should be gardening where all these house plants grow outdoors. Although maybe that would kill me.
    And as much as I try to be “sustainable,” I still love hydrangeas, which are anything but! My mature ones aren’t terriby thirsty, but I know you have seen what happens to hydrangeas in dry spells. It’s not pretty. Even I have to break down and water. Sigh.


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