10 Finicky Plants That Ain’t Worth The Trouble

July 24, 2016 | By | Comments (16)
sourwood phixr e1469201393719 10 Finicky Plants That Aint Worth The Trouble

Sourwood in fall color. Photo: Steve Bender

We all lead busy lives (except for you, you bum, and you know who I mean), so we can’t afford to waste a single minute on something that just doesn’t work. This applies to gardening. How many times have you toiled and fretted over a plant that wasn’t worth a Ramen noodle? You and everyone else need to stop that and Grumpy is here to help. I present to you ten finicky plants that ain’t worth the trouble trying to grow in the South.

Finicky Plant #1 — Sourwood (above)
It really pains to me to place sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) here, because it’s a wonderful native tree that I love nearly as deeply as Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. It bears sprays of creamy white flowers in summer that make a delicious honey. It follows that up with scarlet fall foliage that simply glows. But while it grows happily in the woods, it doesn’t like most other places. I planted a memorial sourwood for my father at the botanical gardens. It looked great on Friday. On Monday, it wilted and died. For. No. Reason. I planted another. Same thing happened. I loved my father and this wasn’t nice. Refusing to give up, I planted a third at the edge of the woods in my back yard. In two years, it has grown two inches. In good soil. If you have a nice sourwood already on your property, cherish it. But plant one from the nursery? Sourwood, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #2 — Hybrid Tea Roses

hybrid tea roses

A gallery of hybrid tea flowers some old people grew. Photo: pinterest.com

Go to a meeting of a rose society today and the first thing you’ll notice is a sea of white hair. These are the lone survivors of a once-mighty nation of rosarians who pledged they’d grow hybrid teas until it killed them. For most, it has. Has there ever been a stiffer, more graceless, more troublesome garden plant than a hybrid tea rose? People plant them in rows of equally spaced shrubs, each accompanied by a name marker. They look like headstones in a cemetery. “Who’s buried beneath that rose?” I wonder. Hybrid teas are plants for dedicated masochists. Japanese beetles devour them. Black spot and mildew denude them. You must water, fertilize, and spray, spray, spray. Take away the flowers and they’re just thorny, ugly plants. Hybrid tea roses, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #3 — African Daisies

African daisies

A rare sighting of African daisy blooms. Photo: Steve Bender

Just about every spring flower expo I attend features tables filled with gorgeous African daisies (Osteospermum sp.). The growers eagerly await my “ooh” and “ahh.” Then I pose the Question That Must Not Be Asked: “How well do they bloom in summer?” Faces fall. Ritual suicide swords are unsheathed. We all know the answer: they don’t. African daisies quit blooming in hot summer weather, which in the South starts in May. They won’t bloom again until maybe October. And then, they won’t survive a cold winter. So I’m going to give space in my garden to a plant that just sits there for 90 percent of the time? African daisy, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #4 — Summer Squash

Summer squash

Planting summer squash is a roll of the dice. Photo: Steve Bender

Summer inevitable brings Grumpy the same anguished entreaties. “My summer squash have nice, green leaves and lots of flowers, but I never get any squash. Why?” Grumpy feels your pain. It happened to me too. See, squash produces both male and female flowers; only females set fruit. But a lot of times, the vines produce only male flowers. Mine did that for about two months until I ripped them up in frustration. Why do some squash plants produce both sexes and some just one? Nobody knows. Summer squash, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #5 — Peach


Healthy, sprayed peaches. Photo: hdwallpaperbackgrounds.net

Do you recoil at the thought of spraying pesticides over and over again on something you’re going to eat? Then don’t plant a peach tree. Let me list a fraction of the pests that plague this tree — peach tree borer, white peach scale, fruit moth, brown rot, peach leaf curl, canker, leaf spot, scab, birds, and squirrels. If you don’t spray, you’re not going to harvest edible fruit — period. And even if you do, peach trees don’t live very long. So why bother? Peach tree, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #6 — Plume Cockscomb

Plume cockscomb

If you can’t grow them in the ground, might as well use them to roast a weenie. Photo: Steve Bender

Plume cockscomb (Celosia argentea) often makes the covers of seed catalogs, due to its fiery colored spears of blossoms. And I’m sure that somewhere in this country where it doesn’t rain very much and the air is dry, it lives longer than a quark in the Large Hadron Collider (physicists are slapping their knees at that one). Not in the South. Here it’ll give you a couple of weeks of half-hearted mediocrity and then collapse and rot following a tropical downpour. Plume celosia, you aint worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #7 — Garden Verbena


Garden verbena before the thrips. Photo: plantssteingg.com

Hybrid garden verbenas make spectacular color displays on garden center benches each spring, offering clustered rings of flowers of just about every color. So you buy them and plant them and they look great for two weeks. Then you notice their leaves turning yellow or silvery, as tiny, sucking insects drain sap and nutrients from the leaves. This insect attack happens almost all the time and cannot be halted. Stems turn brown and die. Renowned Pennsylvania nurseryman, Lloyd Traven, said it best: “Verbena — when you absolutely MUST have thrips.” Garden verbena, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #8 — Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese painted fern

Japanese painted fern before it died. Photo: Steve Bender

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum) is the world’s most beautiful fern. It is also a royal pain to grow. It absolutely requires rich, moist soil loose enough to dig in with your hands. It’s totally intolerant of both drought and root competition from other plants. In summer, you have to water it nearly every day and still it never looks as good as the day you bought it. Japanese painted fern, you ain’t won’t the trouble.

Finicky Plant #9 — Drooping Leucothoe

Drooping leucothoe

‘Rainbow’ drooping leucothoe. Photo: gasper.net

You’d think an evergreen shrub native to the South would grow well here, wouldn’t you? Not so with drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana). Growing 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, this mounding plant is often planted in sweeps, on banks, or in combination with azaleas, rhododendrons, and hollies. But I swear, I can hardly remember a time I’ve seen it where it looked the least bit presentable. It’s terribly prone to leaf spot diseases and apparently feels life is just too hard. Drooping leucothoe, you ain’t worth the trouble.

Finicky Plant #10 — Gerbera Daisy


A gerbera before it died. Photo: Steve Bender

The existence of gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) makes me think we ought to expand our categories of herbaceous garden flowers to annuals, biennials, perennials, and dailies. No flower is more spectacular in the garden center. No flower dies so quickly in your garden. Being from South Africa, where the climate is about the opposite of ours, it doesn’t like our soil, rainfall, and humidity. If it isn’t planted in rich, perfectly drained soil, it quickly rots and dies. Gerbera daisy, you ain’t worth the trouble.



  1. Arthur in the Garden!

    Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum) grows like a weed in my yard! 🙂

    August 10, 2016 at 11:37 am
  2. Krys

    I’m glad to know its not just me who has had bad experiences with these particular plants (and I’m a one who believes you have to kill plenty of plants on your way to becoming a bonafide gardener!). I had a nursery once recommended to plant a persimmon instead of a peach tree. I would like to hear what you suggest as alternatives?

    July 26, 2016 at 3:25 pm
  3. Colin

    I’ve been nursing along a japanese painted fern in dead shade for nearly 20 years. Trying to plant anything near it has been a disaster, as I suspect it doesn’t like root disturbance. This year, though, it seems to be finally happy, spreading to 2 additional plants. I never got around to trying to fill the emptiness near it last year, so maybe that’s the secret. It is gorgeous, so I’ll leave it alone.

    July 25, 2016 at 2:36 pm
  4. Diana C Kirby

    I see many of my “least fave” plants in your post, including peach trees, painted fern, Gerber daisies, cockscomb and squash. “OFF with their heads!”

    July 25, 2016 at 10:50 am
  5. Linda

    I too agree with all of your selections save one. The Japanese Painted Fern. If you get it in the right location it will thrive be happy and give you much pleasure. All the others, you’re right on target.

    July 25, 2016 at 9:21 am
  6. Carolyn Choi

    Well I have three of your eight -Japanese painted fern, verbena and a peach tree and happy to say that I haven’t had the problems you described.

    July 25, 2016 at 9:04 am
  7. Kathleen

    It’s true about the roses, but a few are so lovely that it’s almost worth the effort.

    July 25, 2016 at 8:37 am
  8. Kit Flynn

    Some of the new hybrid teas are beautiful and require no spraying so they can be added to the perennial border. I highly recommend many of the Kordes hybrid teas, such as ‘Beverly’, ‘Savannah’, ‘Wedding Bells’, ‘Plum Perfect’, and ‘Dark Desire’. With the exception of ‘Plum Perfect’, these also have great fragrance and have proven to be very resistant to disease here in North Carolina. Mine are spread throughout the garden and aren’t in one of those dreary two-rose so called “rose gardens.”

    I just looked at my five Japanese ferns, which I’ve had for five years and they’re flourishing. I, too, grow them with heucheras and other ferns.

    July 25, 2016 at 8:27 am
  9. LaFawne

    So glad to see your list! I have tried several of the plants listed and was sadly disappointed. Nice to know it (maybe) wasn’t my fault 🙂

    July 24, 2016 at 9:56 pm
  10. Betty Masters

    Thank you so much for saving me from failure on several you listed!

    July 24, 2016 at 7:40 pm
  11. Patsy

    Grumpy. I have problems with zucchini too. For the last few years the stink bugs get more of it than I do. I grow huge vines but hardly any fruit. Then the next thing I know the bugs find it and it’s chewed off at the ground. I have tried diatomaceous earth but it doesn’t help.

    July 24, 2016 at 2:44 pm
  12. Sandra Bruns

    Can’t agree with number 8. I have never had a problem with Japanese painted fern in my Illinois garden. It’s one of my favorite ferns and it’s not picky about soil and needs watering only during drought.

    July 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm
  13. Barbara Lyles

    Some of these plants I have tried to grow, tried, that is, and I couldn’t agree more! Just not worth the trouble.

    July 24, 2016 at 11:22 am
  14. Carol McKenzie

    I have to agree with Marsha and Brooks: I have several Japanese painted ferns growing in clay beneath a tree in a rain shadow. They’re doing great.

    July 24, 2016 at 11:16 am
  15. Brooks

    I agree with all these choices…with one exception. We have grown Japanese Painted Ferns for the last 15 years in East Tennessee and they’ve not only thrived, but have naturalized and popped up between stones, in many nooks and crannies, and we’ve used them in containers with total success. We rarely (if ever) provide additional water. This plant has outperformed all other ferns in our gardens 🙂 Don’t be afraid!

    July 24, 2016 at 10:48 am
  16. Marsha

    I have to say the majority of these plants I will wholeheartedly agree with you on except.., I have Japanese painted ferns in my hosta with coral bell and cinnamon fern and they are doing good so far. Of course they have only been there for 2 years! So maybe they wont do good for long! Lol

    July 24, 2016 at 10:45 am

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