When Bad Things Happen to Good Gardeners

September 15, 2019

 Much of the time when bad things happen in the garden I just accept that we can do nothing about the weather. It is what it is and it is a huge factor in susceptibility to disease. I know we all felt very bad for our May picnic hostess when continuously wet weather led to an attack of botrytis (a.k.a. gray mold) on all of her rose blossoms just in time for the event.


Beyond disease problems, the abundant rain these past few seasons has led to flooding situations where none existed before. Clethra and hydrangeas seem to weather these conditions while other landscape shrubs do not. Then there is the damage wrought by tree limbs falling onto our plants during windy storms. Drought can be combatted by irrigation, but prolonged dry spells are stressful on gardeners as they wonder if it is time to reduce the number of plants needing constant care.


Just this year, a portion of my established long border turned into a desert. Every plant shriveled up and died. I am certain one factor was greatly increased sunshine. Our homeowners association did a lot of tree work in the easement behind us last winter which has had quite an impact on our previously very shady yard.


When bad things happen to good gardeners it is best to accept them with philosophical calm. Here is the Zen solution I developed for my disaster area.


I got my husband to help me look more deeply into the problem. As we began to excavate, we discovered that tree roots had invaded and conquered the area. We are no strangers to root removal but have little appetite for this job. Inspiration struck! We cleared out the dead and dying plants, mulched the area, and arranged large pots to provide homes for plants. With the addition of some whimsical garden art, the area is now a focal point rather than an eyesore.


Those of us who like to start some plants from seed know that garden disasters are not limited to established plants. Beyond the tragedy of damping off, a fatal fungal event, there is the mystery of how many seeds actually germinate. One year no one I knew had any success with a particular brand of seed whether purchased at a store or through the mail. I suspect that somewhere along the line the seeds were subjected to extremely cold temperatures.


Slosh! What can you do when the backyard floods? Shake your head sadly and start again when the waters subside.


Though ice and snow are much less frequent events than in decades past, Jack Frost can still wreak havoc in the landscape. Certainly unexpected late freezes are events the vigilant gardener needs to be prepared to handle. One can cover cool season seedlings with frost cloth or the fuzzy side of plastic tablecloths. Gallon jugs make terrific cloches. Turning on the sprinklers before dawn cloaks shrubs in a protective veil of ice. I stumbled onto this in the very late April freeze of 2007. My ice-enshrouded roses suffered absolutely no damage!


Now that winters are less wintery, mid- and late-season warm spells trick dormant plants into awakening only to face the next freeze less protected. This has reduced survival among my perennials as well as my roses, especially those that were only planted the preceding spring. One thing we can do about this is make sure there is a nice four-inch layer of mulch to insulate the soil, keeping temperatures constant. As I said, we cannot control the weather,

Munch! Critter holes in my kale patch!


Early, early one spring, I set out to clean up the long border. Along came the wind and away tumbled my oakleaf hydrangeas! A subterranean dweller had eaten the entire root systems of all three shrubs for cold season sustenance. Critters are a challenge to control. The most efficient deterrent I know of is a good cat, one that loves hunting rodents. Of course terrier dogs are keen on rodent eradication, too. The big difference between Felix and Fido is that cats cannot burrow for prey while terriers are famous for digging them out.


Master Gardener Ann Bartlett patrols the ornamental borders surrounding her home with vigilance, knowledge and skills. Bad things happen to them anyway! You can email Ann at arose56@hamilton.net.

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