Friday, May 18, 2012

Confessions of a Plant Killer

Occasionally when I see somebody doing something that seems remarkably imbecilic to me, I sarcastically exclaim, "I guess it's good to be good at something." When I see people that demonstrate little talent in anything other than doing stupid stuff, I reason that at least they're good at something. When it comes to my management of plant life, it could probably well be said, "I guess it's good to be good at something."

I am actually very proficient at growing plants. Unfortunately, all of the plant varieties to which this skill applies happen to be classed as weeds. I also have a good track record of managing to kill off desirable plants. I guess it's good to be good at something.

Many years ago, I came home from work one day to discover a number of potted trees sitting in the driveway. My wife's sister and her husband soon arrived. After dinner, my wife instructed me and my brother-in-law exactly where to plant each tree. Until the other night, three of those remained. Now there are two.

Three of the trees were supposed to grow quickly and produce relatively narrow boles. We planted them on the west side of the house, hoping to get some shade protection from the afternoon sun. That hope was in vain. It wasn't long before the first of these trees died off. It took several years to kill all of them. My oldest sons were still quite young when the last of this line of trees gave up the ghost. I had honestly tried to care for them. But it was to no avail.

I knew nothing about globe willows when my brother-in-law and me plugged two of them into the backyard. I had no idea how prolific those things were. Unfortunately, when the trees were still fairly young, an early October snowstorm dumped enough wet snow on the leafy branches to split the trees right down the middle.

But the roots still seemed good and I knew that the split would not prevent the transfer of nutrients up the tree. So I pulled each tree back together and bound them as well as I could. Despite the ugly splits, the trees seemed to thrive. They were so prolific that it became necessary to prune them severely each year to keep them off my roof and off my neighbor's yard.

But the splits ultimately led to the trees' demise. Both of them became diseased. When we finally had a trained arborist take a look, he insisted that the trees should come down immediately for safety sake. It was interesting to watch a crew with safety gear cut the trees apart from the top down. The stumps were later ground out.

As the arborist had predicted, the scrawny spruce tree that had been overshadowed by the willows has now turned into a towering beauty. It is the only tree that remains in the backyard.

We planted three maple trees in the front yard in sort of a triangular fashion: a Norway maple, a red sunset maple, and a silver maple. It soon became clear that the red sunset maple was unhealthy. The silver and Norway maples seemed to do OK. The silver grew faster, but the Norway appeared sturdier and better formed.

After a number of years, the trunk of the Norway maple started to de-laminate on one side. The next spring it produced no leaves. I left the starkly dead tree standing for two whole seasons before having my son help me cut it down and cut it apart. The stump remains.

I tried to help the red sunset maple. It still refused to thrive, although, its few sparse leaves did turn spectacular colors in the fall. This spring the tree looked worse than its normal sickly self. It produced leaves on some parts, but other branches looked dead and bare. My wife finally issued its death sentence. So on Monday evening, I gave my son a pruning saw (the trunk was less than 2" in diameter) and ordered him to cut it down.  He took to the chore with great delight. Within a few minutes, the blight was gone.

The silver maple remains. Unfortunately, it's on an off-center corner of the triangle, so it's lone placement in the front yard now looks kind of strange. It has reached a stable height and bole circumference. It's strong and beautiful. But each spring it drops thousands of whirligig seed pods all over the yard.

I manage to keep most of the lawn alive, although, that's now harder in the backyard, given the toll exacted by the puppy's activities. The lawn is filled with a variety of undesirable monocot and dicot weeds. But they don't look too bad if we keep it regularly mowed.

My lawn does not match the deep luscious green of some of my neighbors' lawns. But I figure that I'm providing them a service by making their yards look better by contrast. And given my lawn's appearance, it doesn't bother me much to have the neighbor kids traipse or ride their bikes across it.

We've got a couple of lilac bushes that seem to thrive. But maybe my neighbor wishes they weren't so abundant, as they climb over and stick through the fence. The kids dislike the fact that they are frequented by bees and wasps.

Despite our track record on indoor plants, we have one that my wife has managed to keep alive for a number of years. It is climbing down the wall in the living room. It really wouldn't hurt my feelings if it were to catch its death of some kind of illness. Perhaps that's why it's still alive.

I'm no gardener. I detest doing yard work. I love having a yard. I just wish I could have a nice yard without having to take care of it myself and without having to pay someone else to take care of it. Alas, that's a fool's wish. And my yard reflects it. As is the common lot of mankind, I reap what I sow.

When it comes to my care of plants, it should be said, "I guess it's good to be good at something."

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