Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Give Problem Plants the Heave-Ho

Today's rant is short and bittersweet: get rid of under-performing plants.
There are a lot of other plants out there that would be very happy to take their place, and offer you more hassle-free enjoyment. 

Many years ago, Sacramento-area landscape designer Michael Glassman told me something that has stuck: "Life is too short to put up with problem plants."

Roses that won't bloom? Shovel prune them. Plant another rose, better suited for the area.

Nut trees that aren't nutty enough? Bring out the chainsaw.

Late blight on a tomato plant

Tomato plants that sulk or are diseased? Off with their heads (and roots)! Get thee to a nursery. They have healthier veggies available.

Frosty the Ficus

And that frozen ficus? It ain't comin' back from the dead. To the compost pile!

Which brings up a good question... what do you do with that poor performer?

If it is in critical condition due to the weather or produces an unsatisfactory crop, chop it up and put it in a compost pile. 

For those who get overly sentimental about their sickly plants, think of the compost pile as a way for your plant to keep on performing: as it breaks down, it is creating wonderful soil amendments.

If that sickly plant is riddled with insects, a hot compost pile will kill the bad bugs and their offspring. Otherwise, trash it.

If the plant is diseased, though, put it in the trash. Chances are, your compost pile isn't hot enough (140 degrees) to kill those pathogens.

The bottom line: putting the right plant in the right place, and properly cared for, reduces your need to commit horticultural homicide.


  1. Perfect timing on your post. Just yesterday I noticed 2 of our nursery purchased San Marzano have what looks to be blight. My 7 other ones (that I grew from seed) are fine. I say yank em but my husband is holding out high hopes. I will share this post with him. Thanks!

  2. I just shovel pruned three roses this weekend. Shasta Daisy, Echinecea, and some other wildflowers are already sewn in their place.


  3. Excellent advice! My Grandmother had a very green thumb. I was an adult before I learned her "secret" was shovel pruning. She had no patience for an under-performing plant. I'm just now learning how important that attitude can be to the overall health of the garden.

  4. Thanks you! For some reason some of some of my tomatoes aren't doing well. I am going out now to yank them and put new ones in. My cucumbers did the same as well as a couple squash plants. Odd but I want a FULL garden this year not just plants.

  5. Sometimes a problem plant can stay because it's an excuse for other problems. I rent and my yard is "blessed" with a privet tree. So I'm not a messy gardener, I'm a very tidy one who has to contend with a privet tree.

  6. While I preach Nazi Garden Tactics to others, in reality I can't bear to shovel prune anything. I'm a sucker for the underdog, and my own personal demons being the fear of being left behind, I will almost never do it to a plant. I just can't. Call me a softie. Call me a FOOL, while you're at it, but I will mulch, drip-irrigate, and even play music for a shrub on its last legs. I may suspect that plants are REALLY screaming (like in "Aliens"), "Please....kill me.....!" but I won't be the one to pull the trigger!