When plants stop performing give them a
I have standard, everyday iris in sun all day.
They do not bloom. The soil is hard clay but other plants, even
hybrid iris, grow and bloom there. I have transplanted them, with
the top of the root exposed per book instructions, but still they
don't bloom. They do put out good new growth. At one time I had
them mulched with cypress, then removed that after reading iris
don't like to be covered. Still no blooms. They're deer proof so I
want to grow them. Any ideas before I remove them to the
Give one to a friend who has never grown iris. If the plant
doesn't bloom there, then compost them all.
Every year I hear from people with iris or other long-term
garden inhabitants that stop blooming and refuse to start again
even though all the conditions seem right. It's one reason I think
that the best gardeners are those who know how to let go.
We can track main factors, such as hours of sun, that the soil
drains of excess water within 12 hours of being saturated, or
whether primary nutrient levels in the soil are within established
norms. Yet we usually don't know what the micronutrient levels or,
more importantly, how they affect a given plant. We don't know
about changes in our garden's microfauna -- the billions of tiny
living things that inhabit the soil, releasing and creating
nutrients, loosening and mixing soil and interacting with roots.
Very few of us track hourly temperature and wind and those who do
probably don't do detailed analyses of that data to identify
Yet all these things and more affect our plants. There are so
many variables and combinations that we can't ever know it all. We
should give it our best try but be ready to smile and say, "I give!
I'll stop trying to grow that, at least for a while."
Woody plants have evolved to persist in one spot for decades but
even the longest-lived herbaceous plants have more fleeting lives.
A field may sport blackeyed Susan or some other wildflower for
centuries, but not always in the same configuration. Conditions in
a particular spot change. Diseases and pests of the plant increase
in number until the perennial ages and thins. Plants of other
species seed themselves or creep into the gaps and the first
perennial yields its place to a newcomer. Yet the ousted species'
presence continues via seedlings or runners that take hold at some
distance from their parent.
In our gardens we keep perennials too long in the same place. We
also miss subtle signs of change, things we might notice if we took
each plant's photo every year at a set time and examined those
images as a sequence. Since we don't do this we overlook gradual
deterioration, noting only major changes such as total cessation of
The smart thing may be to give up on a species. This doesn't
mean losing an heirloom or special plant, since you can simply give
it to a friend for safekeeping. Better yet, increase its chances
of survival by splitting it among several friends. Ask them
to please grow the special plant for at least five years or to let
you know when they are going to stop growing it so you can reclaim
pieces. You may see your plants take on new luster in a new site
and please new people.
Meanwhile, you can try something different. With thousands of
types of ornamental plants to choose from, there must be something
else you will enjoy, such as something from the genus
Helleborus (Lenten roses), Ranunculus (buttercups),
Amsonia (bluestar) or Euphorbia (spurge) that are
not favored by deer.
Speaking of independence day:
How about freedom from garden work?
S.K. wrote, "NOW JUST STOP IT! I read your article the
other day about moving plants all summer long. It's just a good
thing my husband didn't see it!!!"
"Give me a break -- I've planted, moved, fertilized for him. I'm
deadheading still -- that's enough."
"I'M NOT MOVING PLANTS IN THE SUMMER."
"Plus did I mention weeding? Although it is better this
year because he's mulched more and used that Preen stuff."
"It's not that I don't appreciate how the gardens look and the
talent it takes to put it together. But the bugs, the dirt, the
sore muscles, blisters -- holy cow."
"How about a green thumbs up for the drones who don't know one
plant from another but are coupled with gardeners who do make it
beautiful, with the labor of loved ones."
Well said, S.K. Forget I ever wrote that. Take a holiday. Enjoy
Green thumbs up
to creative weeding of all kinds. As an example, R.V. was faced
with a plague of maple seedlings. So R.V. invited the neighbors to
a garden party. At the end of the enjoyable afternoon, R.V. closed
the gate and demanded as exit toll from each guest, 20 or more
Green thumbs down
to complaining about "too." Sure, it was too wet, too cool, too
gray or too variable this spring for this plant or that. Yet those
same conditions favored hemlocks, foxglove and foxtail lily while
giving drought stressed, see-through silver maples and chlorotic
oaks a chance to recover.
Originally published 7/3/04