Not unlike junior high school, the garden can be a breeding ground for bullies—plant bullies. If left unchecked, certain plants will take over, making it difficult for neighboring, less-vigorous plants to succeed. Here are a few tips to keep these more vigorous plants in check, while giving the slower-growing and dwarf plants their best chance at success.
Don’t be afraid to prune back suspects throughout the season that seem to be growing a bit too fast, or that don’t seem to understand the rules of cohabitation. Just like the playground, sometimes, bullies need to be put back into their place for the underdogs to succeed in life.
This constructive editing allows the slower-growing cultivars to catch up, while encouraging stronger, more-sustainable growth on the plants that get pruned back. Don’t worry. This will hurt you more than it does the plants. It’s the right thing to do.
Often, we don’t realize the necessity of good nutrition for plants until it is too late. Even complete soil mixes with starter fertility will need additional fertilizer for optimum performance. While organic, water-soluble, and slow-release fertilizers each have their advantages, the most important thing to remember is the actual act of fertilizing.
How much? Follow the label directions. It’s that simple. This is often that little shot in the arm the little guys need to keep up with the rest of the kids in their class. Container gardens and annual plantings benefit from a second slow-release fertilizer (we recommend an 18-18-8) application in July. Or use an organic water-soluble fertilizer (Daniel’s seems to be the best) to give the plants a final boost to keep them nourished for the rest of the season.
If worse comes to worse, remember that the definition of a weed is a plant out of place. Sadly, on occasion, we must weed out plants that either aren’t behaving or aren’t performing up to your standard. Even though you may have paid good money for something, if it seems out of place, or in the wrong spot, move it, give it away, or if need be make a funeral procession for that plant dud to the compost pile. Don’t be too upset about this, but rather look at it as an opportunity for something new to take its place.
Selective editing, pruning back, and careful fertility throughout the growing season are an easy way to keep plant bullies from overtaking others, as well as a way to monitor the success of your creations. Life is so much better when everyone gets along.
Scott Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and the recently opened Wise Acre Eatery on 54th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.