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In Your Garden: Why doesn’t my garden grow?

When we have a plant, tree or shrub that is not doing well, we often blame either insects or disease, when the actual cause may be our cultural practices.  O.K., what are those?  Site selection, drainage, hardiness, watering, mechanical damage, animals, highly susceptible plants and maintenance practices.

Site selection.  This is particularly important for trees and shrubs, but applies to all plants. Does the plant need full sun, part shade, full shade? Will it do well in our alkaline soil? Blueberries, for instance, won’t. Does it need protection from wind, sun, falling snow (off the roof for instance).  And last, does it want wet feet, just damp or well drained soil?

Soil drainage.  All bulbs need good soil drainage. They evolved in dry areas, leading to water retentive structures we call bulbs, rhizomes or corms. Too wet and they either rot, or just fail to thrive. Other plants, love that low, periodic puddle in the lawn. Think rain gardens. Good drainage is like having good hair, you either have it or not.  Poorly drained soil stays wet long after the rain. Or the ground water table may be high. Another factor we don’t often consider is soil compaction. Bad grading or construction traffic can make soil drain poorly.

Plant hardiness.  Bunkey’s friend George constantly harps on zones. Sure, you can plant a zone 5 apple tree and it may live a year or two, but it will never thrive, or live long enough for you to get a good crop of apples. A plant “out of zone” will be chronically stressed, require protection, need more maintenance, and will be more prone to diseases.  Why go to all that fuss?

Transplant stress.  Root loss during transplanting, drying of roots, poor handling and storage of bare root trees, and planting too deep can lead to a dead tree or shrub. Not watering enough or long enough – five years for new trees – is another cause of stress or early death of trees.

Susceptible plants.  If you have white phlox, you know what this is all about. It seems to get powdery mildew no matter what the weather. Plants that are grown with a lot of water and fertilizer to make them more attractive to the buyer, may last a month or so then fail as most gardeners have neither the time nor inclination to baby a newly introduced plant that may or may not do well with normal care.

Weed and insect killers. The herbicide or insecticide can’t tell a good plant from a weed or a good bug from a bad one.  Take care when you spray. Know what you are killing.

Maintenance practices. We kill our plants with kindness. We amend the soils, wrap, prune, over fertilize, spray and paint, thinking we are doing the proper thing.   Prune trees only at the proper time for the tree. Take only one-fourth inch of the plant a year.  Do not paint the wound.  It slows healing.  Prune outside the branch collar. Trees don’t need amended soil and it will revert back to the original within a few years anyhow. Fertilize at the proper times of the year. Spring and fall for lawns, lightly at transplant for plants. Kill weeds in the fall, crabgrass and other annual weeds in the spring.

Follow these few rules and you too will have the neighbors exclaiming, “I’ll bet he could plant horse manure and grow a pony”.

More questions?  Call the Extension office at 218-998-8760, or call the KBRF 1250AM Saturday morning radio program at 8:10 a.m. or stop in at the City Café Bakery from 9:00-10:00 on Saturday for more help.

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