Then, last year, it started to behave strangely. The flowers were misshapen and stunted, and the plant developed a suspicious growth habit – an excess of thorns and a cluster of new shoots at the ends of the branches. The diagnosis? Rose rosette disease, or “witch’s broom,” which apparently is caused by a mite. The cure? There is none. Dig up your rose, do not compost it, and do not plant another rose there for several years. I fought against the inevitable until March, when I finally accepted that my plant had not undergone a miracle cure. I dutifully dug up it up and disposed of it as instructed.
Other spring casualties included two of my five chronically under-performing “Raspberry Dazzle” dwarf crape myrtles. I transplanted all five last fall, after years of waiting in vain for them to bloom. Two never broke dormancy. Three survived but, despite their new, full-sun location, stubbornly refuse to bloom.
By June, the death toll was rising. Three phlox, planted last fall when they were small but healthy, never took off and finally dwindled into nothingness. One grew well until, seemingly overnight, the entire plant wilted and turned brown. I still don’t know why.
But my most spectacular failure has been my ajuga, which contracted a severe case of crown rot in June. The disease is very common in ajuga, particularly when the summers are hot and wet (hence its other name, Southern Blight). Of course, North Carolina summers are always hot and wet, and I have never had crown rot before. Why now? Who knows? Once more, I did what I was told: pulled the diseased plants out and sprayed twice with the recommended fungicide. Things seemed under control until this past week, when I noticed a new outbreak.
Sometimes I think you need a Ph.D to garden - or better yet, a plant doctor who makes house calls. Until then, the battle will go on.