In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2006
Regional Report

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Frequent deadheading and timely disposal of faded plants will make your garden the envy of the neighborhood!

Faded Glory

My friend Henry likes to save everything. It makes him feel like a real gardener if he can bring a wilted begonia back from the gaping jaws of death. Right now he has about 30 of the world's ugliest cyclamen sitting on his deck. The poor little plants are in 4-inch pots and are leftover from a party that happened years ago. They have been in steady decline ever since. Miracles not withstanding, it's time for them to meet Mr. Dumpster.

I am exactly the opposite (although I do make exceptions). Too many years spent as a gardener-for-hire has made me jaded. If something doesn't look good, it's bye-bye baby. People used to come up to me while I was shoveling faded plants into the dumpster and say, "Oh, you can't just throw those away! They are still so pretty!" Yes I can, heartless as it may seem.

Plants Past Their Prime
Gardening with annuals means that your plants have a finite life expectancy, usually around three to four months. When it's time to replant a bed with the next crop, you don't have the option to wait. Waiting for the pansies to finish for the year means that you will have a faded garden bed, not acceptable in a public garden. No sir, it's on to the next flower du jours.

The only plant I ever had trouble getting rid of was a large bed of Icelandic poppies that I had planted in January. They bloomed and bloomed for ten months straight. The sandy loam soil must have been exactly what they liked.

What a fantastic plant. Even though the foliage eventually became faded and wan around the middle of July, the plants kept right on blooming. The only problem is that the bed was in full sun. If you have ever deadheaded Icelandic poppies, you know you have to twist and pull the faded flowers from the base of the stem. It involved a lot of tippy-toeing between the crowded plants and bending over in the summer heat. I finally pulled them out in October just because I was tired of fussing with them.

Even if you grow perennials, you still have to "cull the herd." Too many gardeners procrastinate with their penstemon, and allow their lavender to linger and the lavatera to languish. According to the gardeners at Filoli, lavender will last about three years, then it needs to be pulled and replaced. I agree: Out with the old! Keep your local nursery in business! If it isn't blooming, or just about to, it's time to say adios.

I frequently see shrubs that need be replaced in otherwise orderly gardens. Woody ornamentals have a life expectancy, just like trees and people. Once shrubs get woody and sparse, it's time to pull and replant. This is the main reason I recommend planting hedges with several different varieties. When you eventually have to replace an unsightly plant with a new one, it won't look like an outsider.

So, instead of wasting time and money on something that isn't thriving, do yourself a favor and trash it. Your neighbors will think you are a fabulous gardener because you never have any dead plants. This can stay our secret!


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