Plants: When to Hold Them, When to Fold Them

One of the most difficult lessons to learn about gardens is that they are not permanent. As Heraclitus says, “all things are flowing.”

The best gardeners I know don’t suffer the attachments to plants that I do. They are much more ruthless. If a tree is in the wrong place it gets cut down. If two plants are too close together, one gets ripped out.

What Pierce’s disease looks like.

I’m trying to get the hang of this lack of attachment. This fall I get to rip out a grape vine that has graced our entrance arbor for a few years now. It’s a muscat of Alexandria that produced a few delicious grapes before succumbing to incurable Pierce’s disease. I planted this vine thinking that it was a resistant variety. It’s not. The leaves, drying from the outside and the stems with alternating dark brown patches are telltale signs of Pierce’s. It’s gotta go and I’ve already ordered a climbing rose to replace it.

So radical gardeners, what are you changing out this coming year?

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  1. We finally gave up a three year old, 1-foot-tall fig yesterday. It’s been taking up some primo orchard space and refusing to grow or produce. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, but eventually a plant that’s not carrying it’s weight has to get cut from the team. At least a disease makes the decision easier.

  2. Oh boy, already changed out quite a lot of the front yard with the help of a professional friend who came down for a weekend. Nothing super drastic, we cleared out ALL the grass and weeds, did heavy pruning of things that have never been pruned.. and now I have a cover crop of buckwheat in some of my garden beds. There’s a nice swath of sage, lavender, penstemon and monkey flower now as opposed to a huge mess. I feel sad for the native pollinators and critters (evicted an alligator lizard and mouse and her family – not caring so much about the latter), but the bees seem to like the buckwheat quite a lot. Now my issue is keeping cats out of my yard, I got a scarecrow motion sprinkler but unfortunately since my yard is sloped (and I worry about it getting the neighbor or people walking by) it can only protect one area at a time, and currently this cat likes to toilet in two areas. Argh!!! Our plumeria tree also spontaneously collapsed.. it was a beautiful 12 foot tall tree or so. The left half split and fell, then the right half collapsed. Years of bad pruning from our former gardener was to blame. A lesson to you all on proper pruning that promotes strength and health!!

    • Go to your local mass coffee purveyor and ask for a bag (or two) of grounds. Take ’em home and spread ’em wherever the cat is mucking up your yard/garden. It may take a few applications, but cats apparently don’t like the smell. It’ll be good for your garden too – adds tilth and Nitrogen.

  3. Oh how well I know how difficult it is to just rip things out. When I moved onto my acre of dirt in the desert I had 5 trees in my back yard and though it really bothered me, I had to remove 4 of them. One was diseased, one was falling over and the roots were being eaten by squirrels, and 2 were so invasive that the roots were tearing up the foundation to my patio and going all over. I felt awful, knowing that trees take so long to grow and are so badly needed here. Meanwhile I have planted fruit trees, olive, fig and others. Hopefully my grapes with not come down with the Pierce disease. I was not aware of this disease when I purchased them.

  4. I know the feeling. I planted a coast redwood in the far corner of our big lot, 20 years ago, and now in Spring and Fall I’m getting a bit too much shade in certain sections of my veggie garden. 20 years ago I figured, its a plant I planted it, and I can take it out when I desire for whatever reasons…as long as it doesn’t just go to a landfill. I would use the redwood by shredding the leaves and branches, to use as mulch, and the bigger material can be made into all sorts of things, and of course use as firewood is in there as well. The problem with a big species is doing it yourself in an urban lot with lots of obstacles, or paying a pro to do it. I can’t afford the pro, and can’t really do it myself at this point. The point is: DON’T PLANT REDWOODS IN URBAN LOTS, THEY BELONG IN FORESTS! Unless, of course you want to live in the shade amongst redwoods!

  5. This may be the year I finally pull out the pomegranate that I planted about 6 or 7 years ago. It gets plenty of brilliant blossoms every spring, but then drops every one of them. I know I have a potted lemon tree that’s been eying that spot.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the pomegranate (my favorite fruit) and the blossoms are amazing, but it takes up what could be a great spot for the lemon tree and so frankly, I’m on the cusp of making that tough decision.

    • You know, I seem to recall trying that hypothesis, but we had no luck. That said, I’m hoping to tear out most of the lawn finally and so there should be less water in the ground. Maybe I’ll give it another year. 🙂 Thanks!

      What are your pomegranates like? Are they sweet? I’m trying to grow a “Wonderful” and we’re keeping it shaped more like a shrub than a proper tree.

    • Is it very windy where you have your tree? Because if you have gale force winds it can literally knock all the blooms off. That happened to us for a while before we figured it out and put up a wind screen nearby.

      Another thing is that they’ll drop their blossoms in a severe drought. Which we’ve had too. 🙂

    • Luckily for us, wind is rarely an issue. No, I think the culprit is the lawn getting watered too much. That’s something we figured out this year, but I had completely forgotten about it!

    • I planted what I think was a small grafted wonderful in LA, and it took about 5 years to bear fruit.

  6. How true that is! I get way too attached to my plants. Up here in Northern Canada though, we are limited in our perennials, but I still get attached to my annuals. It is painful when our first frost hits in August, and I always want to keep my plants artificially alive a little longer, but I just have to accept the climate where I live.

  7. Well, last week someone jumped the curb and rammed their car into our ugly parkway tree, so I’m hoping to replace that with something that wants less water and is more attractive.

    • I felt a little guilty about pinching off seedlings, too, truth be told (after all, they’re so cute and trying so hard!)– until I figured out I could make myself a fancy little gourmet microgreen salad with the thinnings.

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