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Your First Garden: 5 Reasons to Pull Up a Plant

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Your First Garden: 5 Reasons to Pull Up a Plant

May 9, 2019

This spring marks our fifth anniversary in our house. That means I now have five years of gardening under my belt—five years of planting, watering, weeding, and worrying about the state of our yard. Yet, every planting season, I learn something new. For instance, just last week, I learned that it’s okay to purposely kill a plant.

Here, five perfectly valid reasons for premeditated murder of a non-weed plant:

N.B.: Featured photograph by Justine Hand for Gardenista, from Landscaping 101: A Garden Arsenal to Fight Weeds.

1. It’s no longer attractive to you.

These Veronicastrum flowers look nice in this garden but, alas, not in mine. Photograph by Rrobert via Flickr, from Must-Have Flower: All About Veronicastrum.
Above: These Veronicastrum flowers look nice in this garden but, alas, not in mine. Photograph by Rrobert via Flickr, from Must-Have Flower: All About Veronicastrum.

My first year in the house, I remember telling a neighbor how angsty I felt about choosing the right plants for our garden. What if they don’t play well with the adjacent plants? What if they don’t grow up to be as pretty as I think they will? “Well, if you end up not liking what you planted, you can always just pull it up,” she replied, with a note of duh-exasperation in her voice. I nodded in agreement, but secretly thought, what a psychopath! I’m not going to kill my plant babies just because they don’t live up to my expectations.

It took me five years to realize she was right. Last week, I finally decided to part ways with the Veronica “Royal Candles” flowers I planted that first year. (I hated them from the beginning—they turned out to look like, well, candles, with their inelegant and stiff upright stems.) And I felt no guilt, just relief that I was now free to replace them with flowers that I do like.

2. It’s not thriving.

Meredith also once planted a lavender plant that failed to thrive. See her story in How Did I Kill My Lavender?
Above: Meredith also once planted a lavender plant that failed to thrive. See her story in How Did I Kill My Lavender?

In a killing mood, I also pulled up a lavender bush. I knew full well that it wouldn’t fare well under the shade of large tree, which is where I had decided to plant it, but in that first year, I practiced a lot of wishful planting. When the lavender didn’t die, I was overjoyed. And when it came back the following summer, I took it as a sign of success. Not dying, though, is far from thriving. This year, no longer able to tolerate its scrappy legginess, I finally put an end to its misery (and mine). Better to replace it with something that actually likes the shade.

3. It’s spreading aggressively.

Morning glory is known to spread indiscriminately. “I laugh that I paid for the seeds!” wrote one of our Facebook followers about her hate-hate relationship with the climbing vine. “I literally have hundreds all over my porch and undoubtedly hundreds more will sprout in the spring.” Photograph by Matthew Williams, from  Plants Gardenista Readers Will Never Grow Again.
Above: Morning glory is known to spread indiscriminately. “I laugh that I paid for the seeds!” wrote one of our Facebook followers about her hate-hate relationship with the climbing vine. “I literally have hundreds all over my porch and undoubtedly hundreds more will sprout in the spring.” Photograph by Matthew Williams, from 10 Plants Gardenista Readers Will Never Grow Again.

A very good reason to purposely kill a plant is if it’s categorized as invasive in your area. I planted a Scotch broom shrub a few years ago, not knowing that it’s considered a noxious weed in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and parts of the east coast of North America. Even though it’s not classified as invasive in my area, I decided to pull it up after I detected it aggressively spreading this year. (See Native Plants: 10 Alternatives to Invasive Garden Invaders.)

4. It’s outnumbered.

Sometimes you have to practice a little population control in your garden. Photograph by Howard Sooley, from Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden by Dan Pearson.
Above: Sometimes you have to practice a little population control in your garden. Photograph by Howard Sooley, from Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden by Dan Pearson.

The garden you start out with is most definitely not going to look the same in a few years. Part of the reason is that as plants grow, they get fuller or they spread. It’s totally acceptable to thin out your garden to give your plants more breathing room. Or to pull up a particularly tall plant so that the ones under it can get more sun.

5. It’s at the end of its lifespan.

Lupines are perennials but usually last just two to five years. Photograpy by Britt Willoughby Dyer, from Gardening loading=
Above: Lupines are perennials but usually last just two to five years. Photograpy by Britt Willoughby Dyer, from Gardening 101: Lupine.

Like animals, plants have lifespans. Some perennials, like peonies, can live longer than humans; others, like delphiniums and lupines, last just a few years. Familiarize yourself with your plants’ lifespans and come to terms with the fact that no plants are meant to last forever. Your garden is impermanent—which means you’ll always have to put work into it. But on the bright side, you always have the power to correct mistakes and start over.

For more beginner gardening stories, see:

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