Beautiful, healthy ajuga, March 2012.
With the end of summer and Labor Day upon us, I’ve been reviewing the successes and failures of my gardening year. On the plus side, my crinum and acanthus bloomed for the very first time, and my Sky Pencil hollies didn’t die. Overall, though, it was a banner year for failures. The mystery is why.
I’ll begin chronologically, with the demise of my red Double Knockout Rose. I may be the only person on the planet who has managed to kill one of these. They have a reputation for being easy-care and disease-resistant, the perfect plant for people who love roses but who don’t have the time or the skills required to keep them healthy. And for five years, mine lived up to its billing.
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.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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