When to say goodbye to troublesome plants

A few years back, I said goodbye to a “Bonfire” dwarf purple leaf peach tree and an Eastern Whitebud tree. They weren’t broken by brutal winds and ice storms or rampant with diseases, and although their spring blossoms were breathtaking, I was tired of dealing with their problems the rest of the year. So I had them removed and I still feel guilty about it.

But in recent years, with the wise counsel of fellow Master Gardeners and helpful articles in horticulture publications, I’m learning to let go. There are simply some trees and shrubs, perennials and annuals that for one reason or another no longer work in my garden.

The winter months are the perfect time to plan and remember last season’s successes and shortcomings, decide what needs to stay and what needs to go. Branches are bare, flowerbeds are brown; there are no showy blooms or fabulous foliage or hypnotic scents to entice you to reconsider.

As I think back on the previous gardening season I ask myself, “Were there plants that were too high maintenance?” The dwarf peach tree, grown for its purple foliage and flush of spectacular pink petals in spring, not for its peaches, was one of those. It was a nuisance once it began fruiting.

Are there plants that are prone to insect infestations? The Whitebud fell into this category. I finally decided it’s spring flush of stunning sweet pea-like blossoms became secondary to the fungal diseases and pest infestations that curled and browned its heart-shaped leaves. It required constant monitoring, pruning, spraying and praying.

I didn’t know taking out the trees would be the answer to my prayers. After all, removing treasures from my garden is contrary to my nature. They are like members of my family, albeit difficult members. They hadn’t snapped in an ice storm like my Globe willow, nor been pummeled into oblivion by a hailstorm like my Hawthorns. These two trees I had tended like toddlers in the beginning, but eventually they had become out-of-control adolescents and I was an ever-graying gardener.

As both the trees and I got older, I realized beauty is fleeting. Low maintenance is now my mantra.

Along the way, I was encouraged by the experts. “Don’t be afraid to change your mind,” I heard Paul James of HGTV fame say. “Taking plants out is as important as planting them. There are always other—possibly better—choices that can contribute to the magic of your space.”

Southern Living magazine noted that “if a plant isn’t healthy, take it out and plant something else. It will help keep your garden free of diseases and pests.”

They were all giving me permission. “Know when to say good-bye.” Even if I just wanted a new look, it was okay.

In 2015, when the Myriad Gardens removed 48 Shantung/Norway hybrid maples due to southwest winter injury, an irreversible disease, I began to understand that it was okay to remove problematic plants and replace them with something else.

This winter I’m making lists of plants to keep and plants to remove and new plants to try. There are perennials I prefer and those that take over like wild weeds; annuals that did well and those that were duds in my yard. And this time of year there are catalogs galore to tempt me.

I’m still struggling with the thought of saying good-bye to trees and shrubs that I know are not going to thrive, but my garden is a great teacher. It proffers many lessons I can use in my daily life and letting go is one that gets easier all the time.

The Oklahoma County Extension Master Gardeners are offering a three-day workshop, “Home Gardening 101”. It will be February 17, 24, and March 3. The registration fee of $50 covers all three days. Call the OSU Extension office at 405-713-1125 to register and get more information. This is a great opportunity to learn more about gardening in Oklahoma.