Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Plant or pet?

Closeup of the salmon-pink bloom of the red yucca

Pondering a few changes in the garden has reminded me of something D always says when I'm trying to decide whether I've reached the point of no return with one plant or another: "Well, it's not as if it's a pet." Sometimes I find it easy to agree with him and out that plant goes, sometimes dug up and moved elsewhere, sometimes passed on to a friend, sometimes into the yard waste bag (yes, I know. I should be composting).

But, as in so many other parts of my life, I rarely come to a quick decision. Usually I waver, considering all the possibilities. Sometimes I consider for so long that the plant finally dies and the decision is made for me.

Occasionally though the plant takes matters into its own hands (leaves?) and renders the decision even more difficult. A plea for survival? Who knows.

Last year I lost patience with the one remaining clump of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in the long upstairs bed. For the second year in a row it didn't send up even one bloom stalk. And it is an incubator for hackberries and Turk's cap. The seedlings spring up amidst the yucca fronds and are impossible to eradicate.

When I originally planted the L-shaped bed in 1995 I put in three clumps of the yucca (two one-gallon plants in each clump, I think). The idea was that the salmon-pink bloom stalks were attractive in their own right, and also that the rigid but arching stalks of the plant itself would add structure and give some winter interest to a garden made up mostly of plants that froze to the ground.

All well and good for a number of years. The clumps got larger and bloomed profusely. At some point, for reasons lost to memory, we dug up two of the three clumps. The remaining clump is in the long arm of the bed, between the Old Blush rose and the Climbing Pinkie on the steel tepee. The clump is about three feet deep and five feet wide, a substantial amount of real estate in my relatively small garden.

This spring I had every intention of pulling out the entire clump and replacing it with something new. I hadn't figured out exactly what that something new would be so I delayed removing the yucca. And then one day I noticed the reddish tips of several bloom stalks. And then more and more. All told the plant has sent up twelve stalks. The most ever, I think, and for no clear reason. I didn't fertilize it at all or water substantially more. We have gotten a fair amount of rain this spring and the pruning of the wisteria off the utility pole increased the amount of sun in that area of the garden.

So now I'm deeply conflicted. On the one hand, the yucca blooms are lovely, both up close with their yellow interiors and in a mass. And they are a hummingbird magnet. On the other hand the plant takes up a lot of space. And the salmony color of the blooms doesn't really mix well with others, particularly not the pink roses on either side. But the upright leaning stalks are an interesting companion to the wands of orange bulbine planted underneath (purely by chance; I'm sure I didn't give this a thought when I did the planting).

I think my real problem is an inability to get rid of anything that's blooming. I love flowers (although I have become more interested in foliage over the years) so a plant that's supposed to bloom but doesn't is an easy mark for me. But show me some flowers and I'm much less decisive.

What do you think? Should it stay or should it go? Or should I just procrastinate a bit longer?


Vivé said...


Clearly there will be those who will disagree, but I gotta vote in favor of keeping a plant so desperate to impress you. 12 blooms! And such height, such willingness to dance in the May breezes! Or at least give him a chance to show off his finery for the season before you decide.

That said, I've got five yuccas in the front bed and only one has been willing to bloom this year...


Carol said...

I'd hold off, maybe until the fall when it isn't blooming. I can't really cut out a blooming plant, either.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Decisions, decisions! This is a difficult one Susan. I'd go with Carol and leave it until it has stopped flowering and then pull it out.

Perhaps you can find a good home for it elsewhere in your garden or give it to a friend? Personally I'm not keen on throwing plants away that are still alive, I just can't do it.

Pam/Digging said...

Oh, it looks so pretty right now, Susan. I don't think I'd have the heart to take it out.

On the other hand, I'm a believer in ripping out what you're tired of.

Susan said...

Thanks for all the input and advice, everybody. I definitely plan to wait until fall to make a decision. I wouldn't really want to plant anything major right now and, if I do decide to move it or give it away, now is certainly not the time for that either.

Pam — You're a person after my husband's heart. Ripping out what you're tired of is definitely the bottom line of his "it's not a pet" comment.

And Vivé — I agree that it's hard to ignore such a desperate bid for a reprieve. I'll probably give in (but it may just have to go live somewhere else — after it's finished blooming!)

Annie in Austin said...

Susan, at one time I wanted those flowers so badly that I would have ripped out the roses and kept the hesperaloe! The deer ate the flower stalks at the last house, and a new plant has not yet bloomed here. Originally I wanted it with the similarly colored Coral honeysuckle.

Twelve stalks - I am so jealous.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Sonia said...

Could you trim the long stemmed beauties and take them into the house into one of your beautiful pots?

Susan said...

Annie — One of the things I find most interesting about reading garden blogs is seeing how often something that is a problem for one person is coveted by another gardener. There's a lesson there, I'm sure.

Sonia — I've never thought about taking the stalks in as cut flowers but it's certainly an idea. But that leaves the question about what to do with the plant itself.

Anonymous said...

I'd yank it out like pulling the cord on a lawn mower! Actually, I rarely allow my plants to get too large. When they start to get to a size that I consider "too large" I dig them from the ground, split them in two, three, four sections and replant the sections in other parts of the garden. I used to do this throughout the year (I live in the Lost Creek area of AUstin), but have since learned it's best to do this in late winter. That said, I don't have an infinite amount of garden so there are some plants that I tire of and simply remove and throw into the green belt that is my back yard. Normally, these are the plants that I first put in about 5-6-7 years ago that I used to 'quick start' my garden. Indigo Spires is high on this list. Indigo Spires grow like a weed and provide nice color quickly. After a 3-4 years, however, the root ball measures a few feet in diameter and it simply crowds other plants. Personally, I don't want to get too sentimental about any one plant.