The third week of May is time to worry if you see trees and shrubs that still have not leafed out and look bare and dormant. No foliage by mid May means it may be time to give up and accept that the leafless dogwood or no-show dahlia is indeed dead.
There are a few exceptions – hardy fuchsias, dahlias and Rose of Sharon hibiscus can be notoriously late to the spring party, preferring to hog the lime light by arriving late then showing off with late summer blooms when the rest of the summer flowers are starting to fade.
Clematis is another plant not to give up on just yet. I had a “dead” clematis sprout from the soil three years after it suffered from clematis wilt and disappeared. What was going on below ground to restore the MIA clematis I have no idea – but it flowers with lusty growth today.
The good news about dead, overgrown or just plain ugly plants is that gardeners always need more compost and every dead or disappointing plant is a composting opportunity.
Remember that plants are not your children and you do not owe them a life time of commitment. When they get too big, too demanding or too ugly, off with their head, their knees and their entire root systems if necessary and celebrate the new available real estate after the removal of an ugly plant by visiting a nursery or plant sale.
Charity plant sales abound in the month of May to benefit Master Gardeners, horticulture societies and garden clubs.
Here are five tips for making the most of a plant sale:
1. Eat a big breakfast, wear water proof shoes and protect the trunk of your car from all the pots you will cram inside. Plant sales can be considered a competitive event as there is always a limited supply of the best plants and best deals.
Arriving before the opening hour to stand at the gates and gawk is encouraged. Sneaking in while the volunteers are still pricing and labeling plants is not.
2. Cruise the plant sale quickly at first and grab immediately anything that catches your eye before another gardener has a chance to think twice. It does not matter if you have a spot for the new plant or not.
Remind yourself that you are supporting a non-profit and that one simply cannot have too many plants.
3. Beware of robust groundcovers such as creeping Jenny, Lady’s mantle and the gray leaved Lychiness if you have a small garden. There is a reason these plants always show up at plant sales – everyone is trying to get rid of the many seedlings that volunteer in their own garden. (Of course due to the delirium of spring fever, one may snap up a “new” plant at a sale only to find it already filling your beds back home – greed happens at plant sales.)
4. Don’t hold back on impulse buying. You are encouraged to invest in tree seedlings, young shrubs and garden art especially if hand made by the artist sitting in front of you. You can always nurture the trees and shrubs for a few years in containers and then pass them along as house warming gifts or to anyone with a new bed to fill. Garden art also makes great gifts – even if you have to store it until December.
5. Finally, pay for your plants, load your car and if there is even a bit of room left on the dashboard, peruse the plant sale a second time to see if you missed anything. Whomever dies with the most plants wins and if your patio is filled with plants in pots still waiting to go into the ground from last year’s plant sales and nursery visits – well that just means you have the gardeners gift of optimism with great plans for creating beauty and providing for wild life.
Gardens are never done and people that garden live longer because they are always looking forward, nurturing new life and always growing.