The Garden Path: Are you an over-permissive gardener?

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Like over-permissive parents, gardeners who lack a
firm hand are likely to end up with unruly “children.” Gardening can involve
tough choices but, as a friend of mine likes to say, sometimes you have to just
“pull up your big girl panties” and move on.

Here are some times when it really pays to have
courage and firm resolve:

1.Thinning seedlings—you spent money on the seeds, prepared the soil, planted,
watered, and generally obsessed over these little darlings and now you’re
supposed to pull some out and thro them away? Yes. Crowded seedlings are
seedlings that will not thrive and may even die, due to the dreaded “damping
off” fungal disease. Thin early and often for healthy plants.


2. Staying ahead of invasives—give them an inch, and they’ll take a
mile-a-minute (the nearly literal name for an invasive vine). A single garlic
mustard plant, for example, can produce more than 7,000 seeds that remain
viable in the soil for up to five years. Learn the invasives and show no mercy.
Here is a good reference: http://www.invasive.org/eastern/

3. Getting rid of plants you don’t like—so you have
this plant that is doing well, looks OK, and is staying healthy, but you just
can’t seem to take a shine to it. Don’t let it take up space! Who’s garden is
this, anyway? Yours. You don’t like it, you take it out. If you just can’t bear
to simply toss it on the compost pile, offer it to a friend or take it to a
plant swap.

4. Weeding—I know, I know. Who has the time? But
turn your back for a moment, especially during cool, rainy springs, and things
will really get out of hand. Keep track of what you planted and move or remove
everything that doesn’t belong. It’s OK to let some self-seeding occur, but
just because a plant sets up housekeeping in your garden, doesn’t mean you have
to let the freeloader stay.

5. Pruning—Learn which of your shrubs and trees
should be routinely pruned. Some are fine on their own but others really do
need some maintenance pruning to look their best and stay healthy. Spare the
pruners; spoil the plant. Here’s a guide to pruning trees: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uh099.pdf

6. Pinching/cutting back—Many multi-stem perennials
get too tall and spindly unless they are cut back a little in the spring. This
can seem cruel, to pinch their little heads off just as they are hitting their
stride, but in the long run, you’ll both be happier. Mums and asters, in
particular, bloom better and have better form if they are pinched back several
times during the growing season. Stop around mid- July.

7. Dead-heading annuals and perennials—When flowers
have passed their peak, cut them off (a procedure known as dead-heading). Some
gardeners wait until the flower has nearly turned to dust, but by then the
plant is saying to itself: I guess it’s time to stop making flowers and start
making fruit. If you want the plant to continue to flower, cut off the flowers
as they fade. That said, if you want the plants to produce seed (for the birds
or for more plants), leave some flowers. Here’s a good reference on perennial
maintenance: http://consumerhorticulture.psu.edu/files/pruning%20herbaceous%20perennials.pdf

8. Eliminating weak or diseased plants—your garden
should not be a hospice. If you have a plant that has been struggling for some
time, take action. If it is diseased, throw it out (not in the compost). If it
is just unhappy, you may want to try moving it to another area (look up the
preferred conditions—it could be it just needs more sun, less wind, more acidic
soil, etc.). Don’t replace an unhealthy plant with the same plant. If it was
diseased, the new plant may get infected; if it was unhappy, the same species
is unlikely to be any happier.

9. Cleaning up—plants, like teenagers, create waste
and don’t pick up after themselves. A certain amount of debris can serve a good
purpose (mulch) but too much is unsightly and unhealthy for the plants. Always
remove diseased plant material. After the birds have had their chance with seed
heads, remove dead plant material in the fall (add to the compost pile) and
make sure fallen leaves aren’t smothering desired seedlings. Moss never likes
anything on it, so be sure to carefully sweep your mossy areas. (You do have
mossy areas, don’t you?)

So, enough reading. Don’t you have better things to
do? You march right out into your garden and in your firmest voice call out:
“You’re not the boss of me!” Then grab your pruners, kneeling pad, and bucket,
and take charge!

Visit the Chester County Master Gardeners at the
Delaware Center for Horticulture Private Gems Garden Tour, June 19. They are
featuring several Chadds Ford gardens. For more information, call 302-658-6262.

• Nancy Sakaduski
is the Chester County Master Gardener Coordinator.  Master Gardeners are
trained volunteers who educate the public on gardening and horticultural
issues.  In Chester County, they operate through the Penn State
Cooperative Extension office in West Chester.  Nancy lives in Pennsbury
Township.  She can be reached at nds13@psu.edu.

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About Nancy Sakaduski

Nancy Sakaduski is a Master Gardiner with Penn State Extension of Chester County.

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