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
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
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 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
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 (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
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 (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
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
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.