Tossing plants, even favorites, is an essential part of gardening


I threw out a box of quinoa that expired in 2013 over the weekend in an incredibly satisfying and obviously overdue pantry cleaning project. At no point did I question that decision, even though I’ve had that quinoa for at least eight years.

It’s a lesson — ridding spaces of things I’ve had for years but serve no purpose and are long past their “good by” date without any feeling of remorse — that I hope to carry over to the garden.

For years, I strived to have a garden with layers of plants and nary a patch of bare ground to be found. I planted everything I could get my hands on inexpensively knowing full well that I was planting too much, too close for the long haul. It was an intentional strategy to have a full, mature-looking garden sooner.

But now those chickens have come home to roost and I’m paying the price for my impatience. Actually, I’m about two years too late in addressing the issue.

Overcrowded gardens not only look disheveled, they also inhibit plants. Instead of a welcoming place to grow, it turns into a survival of the fittest, and suddenly the delicate plants you’ve coddled are usurped by more vigorous actors. The problem is exacerbated in challenging growing seasons like last summer’s drought.

Editing plants is difficult when you like the plant, but something has to go. It’s not like when you detest a plant and purge it from your garden, or when something isn’t growing to your satisfaction. Those types of edits should be no-brainers. But choosing among plants you love equally, knowing they can’t all stay, is a dilemma.

Moving extra plants to another part of the garden is often not a good solution. I’ve gone through all the work that entails only to end up ignoring them. It turned out I moved them just so I wouldn’t feel guilty.

The great garden scribe Christopher Lloyd had no qualms about ditching a plant for any reason. “Don’t just keep it because it’s been there,” he said.

Some people edit gardens by starting entirely from scratch, digging out every plant, weeding thoroughly, amending the soil if necessary and then replanting what needs to go back in. For those of us who have a hard time visualizing a space until it’s empty, it’s probably a great way to do the job right, but it’s an enormous amount of work and an approach I’d avoid unless I had a real weed problem to fix.

A more reasonable approach is to start with an inventory of all the plants in a bed and a sketch on paper, keeping in mind a few new plants might need to be added to achieve a new design. Or if the design is spot-on, maybe things just need to be divided to get the look back on track.

Whatever approach you take, steel yourself for realization that good plants will need to go. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you a gardener.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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