Last week I talked about The Collector—the passionate gardener who has to have one of everything, to the detriment of their landscape design. Today I want to address two more kinds of crazy plant people and the mistakes they make: The Worrywart and The Rearranger. Do either of these sound familiar?
The Worrywart. This is the gardener that anticipates problems. For example, they become alarmed at a single yellow leaf, rushing to identify the issue. When I worked at the master gardener help desk, we would get frantic phone calls from homeowners convinced that their tree—or lawn, or shrub, or bean plant—was about to shrivel and die. What should they do to save it? In most cases, there was no issue requiring them to do anything.
Or perhaps they see a (gasp) bug on their plant! In spite of the fact that less than 5% of insects are considered pests, they’re ready to release a cloud of insecticide on the unwary creature.
Even when insects are damaging an expensive plant such as a mature tree, it’s often best to do nothing. Many insect pests are only present for a short period of time—a week or two—before they move on. Others chew on leaves that are about to die anyway, such as in late summer and early autumn. Spraying in either case is a waste of time and money.
Worse is when gardeners decide to spray for no reason at all. We recently got a notification from our HOA that all the trees in the common area were going to be sprayed. No mention was made of a particular pest needing to be controlled. They simply decided to hire a company to spray—just in case. Not only is indiscriminate spraying unnecessary, it’s expensive, it kills beneficial insects (and those just minding their own business), and it eliminates a significant food source for wild birds.
Just as neglect will kill plants, so will an overabundance of loving attention. I’ve known many gardeners who automatically feed their plants every year, whether or not fertilizer is needed. They could be doing more harm than good. Phosphorus and potassium accumulate in the soil, eventually reaching levels toxic to plant life. In many areas, such as Colorado, the soil is naturally high in both nutrients, and there is no need to add more.
The Rearranger. This person is a designer at heart. They love to group plants so that the best attributes of each one are highlighted. The problem is, every time they get a new plant, its placement requires a rearranging of the entire garden.
Sometimes it’s necessary to move plants—when they are failing to thrive, when they’re in the way of a construction project, when for whatever reason we realize that they’re not in the right spot.
However, repeated transplanting means that a plant never has a chance to become established. It’s always playing catch-up, trying to grow more roots to replace those lost in the digging. You may see little or no top growth in the years after the move. In some cases, flowering is substantially delayed. And always, a recently relocated plant is significantly less drought-tolerant than its established neighbor, requiring special attention to ensure it gets enough water that first year in its new location.
As a self-identified “crazy plant lady,” I have caught myself indulging in all of these practices. It’s hard to resist an exciting new plant, and I don’t always have room for multiple copies. I’m vigilant when it comes to checking for pests and diseases, as they are much easier to correct before things get out of hand, although I’ve learned not to immediately reach for a spray bottle. And while I try to visualize how the garden will look when the plants grow and bloom, I make mistakes that can only be corrected with a shovel. However, I’m learning that sometimes I don’t need to jump to fix what may or may not be a problem.
To that end, I’m doing much better at intentionally setting aside time to sit in the shade and appreciate the fruits of my labors. What’s the point of a garden if we never take the time to simply enjoy it?