The third week of May is time to worry if you see trees and shrubs that still have not leafed out and look bare and dormant.
No foliage by mid-May means it may be time to give up and accept that the leafless dogwood is indeed dead.
There are a few exceptions — hardy fuchsias, dahlias and Rose of Sharon hibiscus can be notoriously late to the spring party, preferring to hog the limelight by arriving late, then showing off with late summer blooms when the rest of the summer flowers are starting to fade. Clematis is another plant not to give up on just yet. I had a “dead” clematis sprout from the soil three years after it suffered from clematis wilt and disappeared. What was going on below ground to restore the MIA clematis I have no idea — but it flowers with lusty growth today.
The good news about dead, overgrown or just plain ugly plants is that every dead or disappointing plant is a composting opportunity, and gardeners always need more compost. Remember that plants are not your children, and you do not owe them a lifetime commitment.
When they get too big, too demanding or too ugly, off with their head, their knees and their entire root systems if necessary and celebrate the newly created real estate with a nursery or plant sale visit for a replacement.
So when you do wind up at a plant sale, here are five tips for making the most of your trip:
1. Wear waterproof shoes and protect the trunk of your car from all the pots you will cram inside.
2. Cruise the plant sale quickly and grab immediately anything that catches your eye before another gardener has a chance to think twice. It does not matter if you have a spot for the new plant or not. Remind yourself that you are supporting a nonprofit and that one simply cannot have too many plants.
3. Beware of robust ground covers such as creeping Jenny, Lady’s mantle and the gray-leafed Lychnis if you have a small garden. There is a reason these plants always show up at plant sales — everyone is trying to get rid of the many seedlings that volunteer in their own garden. (Due to the delirium of spring fever, one may snap up a “new” plant at a sale only to find it already filling your beds back home — greed happens at plant sales.)
4. Don’t hold back on impulse buying. You are encouraged to invest in tree seedlings, young shrubs and garden art, especially if handmade by the artist sitting in front of you. You can always nurture the trees and shrubs for a few years in containers and then pass them along as house warming gifts or to anyone with a new bed to fill. Garden art also makes great gifts, even if you have to store it until December.
5. Finally, pay for your plants, load your car, and if there is even a bit of room left on the dashboard, peruse the plant sale a second time to see if you missed anything. Whoever dies with the most plants wins, and if your patio is filled with plants in pots still waiting to go into the ground from last year’s plant sales and nursery visits — well that just means you have the gardener’s gift of optimism with great plans for creating beauty and providing for wildlife. Gardens are never done, and people who garden live longer because they are always looking forward, nurturing new life and growing.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
May 25, noon: Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th St. E., Sumner. Marianne’s lecture will be, “Weed Wars: How to win the battle and not upset Mother Nature.” $5 fee. Information: 253-863-5843, windmillgarden.com.