Problem plants

Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant.

In my garden, there are four or five real problem plants. I have other interlopers, but the following natives and non-natives are really bad actors in my leaf-mold enriched soil. Note: most natives can be kept in check if you don’t water much and have lean, sandy soil. My garden’s natural soil is red sand with large pockets of clay. Over the years, I’ve enriched it with Back to Nature cotton burr compost, my own homemade compost and shredded leaves along with various wood bark mulches. My current favorite is shredded pine bark, but it can sometimes be hard to find.

Our first problem child, ‘er plant, is Verbesina alternifolia, commonly known as wingstem and yellow ironweed. When it blooms in summer, it is beautiful, and pollinators adore it. I do not. This native absolutely loves my garden and all of its resident plants…to death. I’ve ripped and pulled and done everything to get rid of it. Yet, this year, especially, with all of the rain we’ve had, it is trying to take over the lower left bed near my Japanese maple. I will be out there again today trying to convince it to live elsewhere. Why is it such a problem? It has rhizomatous (underground) stems that spread like those of mint. It also spreads by seed. It’s become an utter nuisance in my garden. It’s also a native plant that is great where it has room to spread. My garden is not that place.

Early garden mistakes often linger. Autumn clematis, oh autumn clematis, why ever did I plant you? I remember my friend, Katie, looking at the feverish growth of its first year and remarking it might be a future problem. I should have listened. It is a huge problem plant in the garden popping up everywhere. I get it killed in one spot, turn around, and there’s a stem taking off in another. I hate this plant even though wasps adore it. It also smells good in late summer and is a fall bloomer.

Brennan has been replacing split-rail fence around the back garden. Volunteer autumn clematis grows on a portion needing attention. He asked me if he could kill it. I laughed, and said, “Go ahead and try.”

Another early garden mistake I made was planting garlic chives. I bought them at a small herb show and plunked them into the soil. Well, I am now constantly digging them out. You may think my garden looks good, but I spy with my little eye problem plants galore.

Trust me, even mint, the planting mistake of so many young gardeners is nothing compared to garlic chives. Their roots are six inches deep at least. They bury these tenacious roots into the pockets of clay which hold them like cement. It’s almost awe-inspiring.

Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle, a terribly invasive vine. I beg you. Don't plant this problem plant
Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle, a terribly invasive vine. I beg you. Don’t plant this.

Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. No, I did not plant this beastly plant. Bill loved his mother’s lovely smelling honeysuckle and planted a small sprig before he and I married. We’ve been married 28 years this May 12, and I am still trying to eradicate it. I’ve done nearly everything you can do to it including burning. Yes, burning. No, it’s still alive. I ripped out a ton of it this morning in fact. Not even brush killer will completely eradicate it. It only sets it back a season or so.

I really think it's Drummond's aster that is my aster problem. This photo is from 2010, but it spread everywhere.
I really think it’s Drummond’s aster that is my aster problem. This photo is from 2010, but it spread everywhere.

Drummond’s aster, Symphyotrichum drummondii. I bought a small plant many years ago, and today, yet again, I was pulling out pieces of it along with its rhizomatous roots. My problem is that this part of the garden is not dry and xeric. In fact, the soil is somewhat clay-like.. One day, when I am old and too tired, this aster will win the fight, but today is not that day my friends.

Mountain mint and our house.
Mountain mint and our house.

Mountain mint. I’m never sure which variety, but I call it common mountain mint. The first clue is the word mint. It and Drummond’s aster duke it out in a corner of the garden, and the battle goes back and forth all season with neither side winning. When I turn my back, they establish détente and begin marching together across the rest of the garden. Only my determination stops full garden domination.

These are my problem plants. Oh, I have more like obedient plant and Johnson grass, but I’ve mostly eradicated them. What are the plants in your garden that give you the most trouble?



What looks good now

Hibiscus 'Moy Grande' will always have a place in my garden. Bumbles love it, and, as the name says, the blooms are huge.

Good morning Sunshines! I hope all is well in your world today. Mine is a-ok, copacetic, in fact. Today, I want to share what looks good now. Even though Oklahoma is still hotter than a firecracker–97F forecast today–the garden looks pretty darn good. We’re in that in-between-the-blooms stage so foliage plants are carrying the load. Asters and mums have yet to start, and as days grow shorter, tropical bloomers are slowing down. However, ‘Moy Grande’ hibiscus, shown above, is still strutting her stuff. Other plants, like orange crocosmia ‘Antique Montbretia,’ are sporting interesting seed heads nearly as pretty as their flowers.

What looks good now. Seed heads on crocosmia are almost as beautiful as the blooms.
Seed heads on crocosmia are almost as beautiful as the blooms.

Mexican feather grass and purple heart are show stoppers in late summer. If you don’t grow either of these in Oklahoma, why? I know they’re easy. That’s the point. Try the hard stuff–fine–but also save places in your garden for things you can grow no matter what challenges you face. There’s only one other plant that’s easier for the beginning gardener–‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine. When I bring up purple heart in my talks, people almost sneer. Well, tell me of another plant that has such presence and asks for so little. Okay, I can think of one group, and I’ll talk about them below. Purple heart is dark, sultry and beloved by butterflies. Who cares if it’s easy? Gardening isn’t easy. Let’s take our passes when we can.

Side borders with Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima (f/k/a Stipa) and Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart.'
Side borders with Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima (f/k/a Stipa) and Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart.’

Another easy group of plants makes my heart grow fonder everyday. It’s the Plectranthus scutellarioides clan. Haven’t heard of Plectranthus scutellarioides? How about their former botanical, now common name, coleus? I’m crazy about coleus. When hybridizers figured out how to make them sun tolerant–even in sultry Oklahoma and Texas–gardeners raised their trowels in rejoicing. Remember, though, not every coleus is sun tolerant. The Wizard and Kong series, for example, still need their sun parasols, but most of the extended family laughs at the sun. If you’re unsure, pick out varieties in late spring or early summer that have very thick stems and leaves with substance. ‘Henna,’ ‘Wasabi,’ ‘Religious Radish,’ ‘Gnash Rambler,’ the Main Street series, and ‘Campfire’ are just some of the good ones. If you want to see some of my other favorites, I have a Pinterest board with Helen Weis called simply Coleus.

Plectranthus cutellarioides 'Wasabi' and others in the garden. Commonly and formerly known as coleus.
Plectranthus cutellarioides ‘Wasabi’ and others in the garden. Commonly and formerly known as coleus.

A new coleus to my garden this year is ‘Defiance Sunset.’ I’m not sure that’s exactly how you write its name because I can’t find much information on it. I saw it across the parking lot at Under the Sun and knew I had to have it. It performed well all summer in full sun in a very dry spot.

'Defiance Sunset' coleus. I bought this locally at Under the Sun.
‘Defiance Sunset’ coleus. I bought this locally at Under the Sun.

Nothing is prettier in the late summer garden than coleus with grasses just beginning to bloom. Below are ‘Adagio’ maiden grass and one of the dark coleus. Can you also see Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ peeking out in between? I cut smoke tree way back twice a year to keep it from elongating into a large tree. I like them bushy. Next to the grass is Vitex Delta Blues™, listed as a smaller and more delicate chastetree. It is still growing quite large in the crummy clay soil of this border. I think I’ll chop it back and see what happens. In the garden, I am often a see what happens kind of girl.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' with one of my pretty coleus, maybe 'Gnash Rambler.' Also, purple smoke bush or tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ with one of my pretty coleus, maybe ‘Gnash Rambler.’ Also, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ smoke tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.

I created this side border to be less upkeep than the rest of the garden. Click on the photos to make them larger. I put a lot of easy plants in here that don’t require much deadheading, if any. I have enough to deadhead in the rest of the garden. I added several varieties of grasses to this space along with tough-and-true native and non-native plants. Most of the natives have already done their thing for the year, but some of the tough non-natives are still performing.

Speaking of natives, I moved two of my favorites to the back of this border where it extends down past the air conditioner and the basement. This is a tough spot for plants, but I think Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Joe,’ Joe Pye weed and Silphium perfoliatum, cup plant, will be fine here. Plus, the yellow and purple-pink flowers will be beautiful together.

‘Little Joe’ was not so little anymore in the triangular bed in the back garden. Grown into the middle-aged plant he was, he was crowding out his neighbors with his girth. Because my hand is still not right, I asked my son, Brennan, to help me move both plants. He is strong and twenty-one. He lifted each gigantic specimen out with no trouble. I then split the plants and took the best specimens to their new homes. The rest went into the compost pile with no guilt. In the triangular bed, I’ll plant some daylilies because the garden is on tour next June. Out by the street where the cup plant waved in the wind, I may move a Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Skies.’ It’s crowded in another spot. Fall is a great time to move plants because the weather is much more amenable for them to settle into their new homes.

Hole left by 'Little Joe' Joe pye weed. I'll put daylilies and maybe a 'Baby Joe' Joe pye weed here.
Hole left by ‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye weed. I’ll put daylilies and maybe a ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye weed here.

Just look at that soil where ‘Little Joe’ was! I know it’s not dark black, but oh the texture was sublime. Only a gardener would be rhapsodic about soil texture, but all the years of leaves and compost have turned this into a wonderful spot. Those daylilies, or whatever I put there will be so happy.

Another plant I find very pleasing most of the year is Coreopsis Li’l Bang™ ‘Daybreak.’ With deadheading, it blooms and blooms, and it’s been in this spot for two seasons now. We’ll see how it does next year. It was very pretty with purple alternanthera and the pink crapemyrtle.

Coreopsis Li'l Bang™ ‘Daybreak’ has been pretty all summer, and with deadheading will bloom again.
Coreopsis Li’l Bang™ ‘Daybreak’ has been pretty all summer, and with deadheading will bloom again before frost.

From far away, the garden looks pretty good in spite of little care this summer. Up close, you can see that ‘Grandpa Otts’ morning glory has had his way with every plant in his path. He is rude that way. Also, autumn clematis, which I hate, established itself next to my ‘Australia’ cannas. Still, I must admit, I like the play of light and dark even if I want to rip out that clematis. I’ll just beat it back after it blooms. Right now, it is covered with pollinators including wasps that wouldn’t be very happy with me if I did it now.

Canna 'Australia' with autumn clematis--my nemesis.
Canna ‘Australia’ with autumn clematis–my nemesis.

Another couple of hateful plants have popped up in the garden in my absence, garlic chives and obedient plant. Lord, how I hate those two early gardening mistakes. I know many of you think garlic chives are pretty, but they are terrible to eradicate once you have them. Obedient plant is the same. People complain about spearmint, but I’ve killed it several times with vigilant weeding. You can spray herbicide on garlic chives, and it just waggles its blooms and says “Come on. Try me.” Obedient plant does a whole other trick. It lays down another underground runner and hides in the ornamental grass. I find digging up garlic chives and obedient plant with a digging fork is about the only way to keep them in check. Young gardening mistakes linger, don’t they?

Garlic chives are so pretty and so awful.
Garlic chives are so pretty and so awful. I’m not even taking a picture of obedient plant because I don’t want to give it the time of day.

A more happy circumstance is my Japanese beautyberry. It is beautiful every year. I also have an American beautyberry in the side border that survived the crummy soil. I hope to add a couple more next year. I’ve killed three. I’m good like that.

Japanese beautyberry.
Japanese beautyberry.

Out by the street, things are starting to heat up. Once the pink muhly blooms in earnest, won’t it be pretty behind this ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and in front of the Mexican sage? I can hardly wait. coleus-alabama-sunset-1-of-1This is my favorite fall bed. Also blooming in here are Orthosiphon aristatus, cat’s whiskers, which are adorable, Stachytarpheta frantzii, purple false vervain–also comes in blue and red–and Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Neon’ sedum–just beginning.

Okay, that’s what looks good now. The crapemyrtles are still doing their thing, and it won’t be long until I’m writing about asters and true garden mums. However, I want to hear what you like best about your garden this time of year. For me, it’s the sweet late-summer days. Don’t let them pass you by my friends. They shorten with each passing hour. Get out in the garden and enjoy it while it lasts.