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The Seven Deadly Sins of Horticulture

Posted December 30th, 2007 by Kelly Norris in

As gardeners and horticulturists we are honored with the distinction of being the tenders of the Earth.  Our admirers shower us with praiseful adjectives like “green thumbed” and “do-it-yourselfer”.  Yet those of us “in the business” know that we are neither without fault nor sin.  We know that in our years of gardening certain calamities have befallen us (or will); learning experiences that we can pardon with laughter now but shunned with contempt after realizing our wrong.  My parody on early Catholic vices is not wholly original and I’m sure a numerical value of seven is hardly enough for some of us blasphemers in the crowd.  On with the list.

1.  Planting Too Deep

How many times has this happened?  That prized maple or iris thoroughly sunk into the locker of Davy Jones’ under your garden.  You had no idea, right?  When did you realize it was too deep?  This may be the most comical part of all.  Was it when the leaves started falling off in July (it wasn’t a drought year, either was it?) or when it didn’t bloom in the spring but sent up lots of foliage?  Plant roots need water and oxygen in order to survive.  However, oxygen is found in higher concentrations closer to the surface.  Consider that if you have the root ball sitting several inches (or feet from some tales I’ve heard) what percentage of oxygen it is getting.  Answer:  not nearly enough!

2.  Overmulching

It is not necessary to collar your plants in a fat ring of mulch though you aren’t totally at fault for this.  You’ve seen landscaping crews pile the mulch on at that new construction site.  They’re experts and they should know what they’re doing, right?  Wrong.  Overmulching is one of the worst fates a plant can encounter.  Mulch is meant to hold nutrients and water in the soil while cooling the roots.  Too much mulch, like planting a perennial or annual too deep, can lead to water being held where it shouldn’t be.  A heavy collar of mulch around some plants can also begin to restrict air flow and could pose a risk of disease.

3.  Plant Misplacement

You’ve bought too many plants at the nursery haven’t you (see number 7)?  Graduation weekend is fast approaching and you want the house and yard to look perfect for your son or daughter’s reception.  Who reads tags anyway?  But that tag may have said something like “Plant in full sun only”.  You’ve got this shady nook that is just begging to have some color.  What could it hurt?  You’ve seen those landscapes with hostas in full sun and phlox in full shade.  These plants don’t look so great burnt like toast or flocked like a Christmas tree do they?  Site your plants properly.

4.  Overwatering

I know you were just trying to give it all the love and attention it deserved.  But plants are often tougher than we give them credit for and can handle only being watered periodically.  But this doesn’t mean that you should jump to the other end of the spectrum and forget about them either.  Water thoroughly and infrequently.  Plants that are over watered often develop weak root systems and will fail to perform to your expectations.

5.  Improper Pruning

Bonsai gone bad or overzealous with the pruning shears?  Either way it can lead to an unattractive specimen that probably isn’t left in the most productive situation.  Whacking off the wrong branches or, more specifically, buds can mean no flowers and shoots at times when you want these.  The general rule for timing is that if it blooms in the spring, prune it after it is done blooming.  If it blooms in the summer, prune it in early spring.  If you are still unsure about what pruning cuts to make and where to make them, contact your local extension office or consulting arborist.

6.  Envy of the Neighbors’ Yard and/or Garden

Let’s face it, we are always awgling over the neighbors’ or your best friends’ garden.  They have always put together some catchy plant combination or have luck with the same delphiniums that you inevitably will compost.  Take pride in your garden and your gardening skills.  We all make blunders yet we also encounter serendipity in the garden.  Who knew that Lunaria and Weigela would look so charming when the former reseeded itself there?  The best thing is that your neighbors won’t know that you actually didn’t plan it to be that way, so take credit for it anyway!

7.  Plant Gluttony

I’m still not sure whether this is really a sin.  Really, can you ever have enough plants?  But even I can admit that I’ve made a trip to the nursery and come home with more than I have room for or appropriate places to install.  I still prescribe to the motto that you can find a place in your garden but it certainly doesn’t hurt to give some thought as to where all of your “finds” are going to call home once they get to your garden.  Too many times has my sin of excess caught me at the cash register and forced me to go and grab just a few heucheras, columbines, or sedums.  Maybe I’ll try tempering myself.  Maybe I’ll just hope that it gets labeled a venial sin in the end and earns me credit for beautifying the world. GG


Kelly D Norris is a contributing editor for Garden & Greenhouse, farm manager for Rainbow Iris Farm.

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