Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guest Post: Gardening in the Desert Part II: 5 Ways to Kill Your Favorite Plants

Guest post by Kate Fowler Kelley, educator, novelist, and humor writer

As I explained in yesterday's post, my thumb is more olive drab than vibrant green, but years of trying to keep plants alive in the hot/cold sandy/caliche-ridden desert have produced the following insights:

1. Let go of guilt. Consider my petunias. When I bought my last Tucson house, the raised brick flower bed in the front overflowed with colorful petunias. I expected to enjoy these lovely flowers in perpetuity, but a couple of years later when I put in petunias they promptly wilted. A bad batch, I thought, and tried again. Same result. A consultation with a nursery professional abbot costellowas  as  enlightening as an Abbott and Costello routine:

“When I plant petunias, they just wilt.”

“You got petunia wilt.”

“Um, right, my petunias wilt as soon as I plant them.”

“Yeah, petunia wilt.”

“Ye-es, petunia wilt. Put petunia in dirt, petunia wilt. What I do?”

The expert gave me a pitying look, then enunciated slowly and carefully. “Sounds like you’ve got a soil condition called ‘petunia wilt.’ You plant petunias, they’re gonna wilt.”

“Oh. What do I do?”

“Stop planting petunias.”

2. Beware of free plants. In case you missed all the movies in which prolific plants bring about the destruction of humanity, be warned. The threat is real. If a so-called friend offers you a mint plant, run! Put that thing in the ground, and soon little tendrils will be creeping under your door to strangle you while you sleep. And don’t think free plants are safe just because they’re offered at the church rummage sale. If I had known an alluring succulent was called Mother of Millions, I might have been warned off. Instead I’m engaged in an epic battle to save us all from Mother’s limitless offspring. (You’re welcome.)

carnivore plant

3. Plant at night, preferably between 1:00 and 3:00 am, so the plastic handles on your gardening tools don’t melt into your skin. Tell curious police officers that night planting reduces chloroplastic shock, or that flowers planted under a gibbous moon are more fragrant. Note: Always say ’gibbous.’ People aren’t sure what it means. Also, immediately drop the trowel when ordered. Unless it’s melted to your hand.

4. Accept your limitations. Some plants will never thrive for you, no matter how tenderly you care for them. Three decades after I first encountered them, I gave vincas another try. Hope springs eternal, after all, hand-in-hand with its little friend, delusion. Predictably, our dysfunctional relationship hadn’t changed. The insatiable little water-thirsty things drooped even during a monsoon downpour.


5. Move. I can't say that my gardening disasters led to my decision to move to the Pacific Northwest, but I admit that it's easier to garden when you don't risk third-degree burns just from crossing the yard. Now if only I could get accustomed to my frequent encounters with banana slugs....

Happy trowels.

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