The Plant Terminator


I have a black thumb.

I kill things.  Growing things.  Green growing things.

I don’t mean to, but there it is.  My house is the horticultural equivalent of the Bates Motel.

Plants occasionally check in, green and leafy, bursting with all the mysterious power of burgeoning life, only to check out weeks or, in tragic cases, mere days later, dessicated and decaying at the bottom of a Hefty bag.

It’s not like I don’t try.  I do.

I water them.  Maybe a little too much.  Then I worry that they’re looking waterlogged, and I stop watering them.  Maybe for too long.  Then I see that some of the leaves are dead, and I pinch them off.  Maybe too many.  Eventually, even the hardiest plant succumbs to my tender loving ministrations.

I give up.  For a while.  Until one day, a beautiful potted tulip sets my heart to yearning, or a well-meaning friend gifts me with another delicate fern, and the cycle begins again.

What can I say?  Hope springs eternal.

Anyway, my gruesome crimes as a mass plant murderer have gone largely unnoticed by the public, since most of them were committed behind closed doors.

But now.


Now we have….a yard.  With grass, and bushes, and a tree, and weird broken up bits of bark piled all along the sides of the porch.  And I’m pretty sure our new neighbors will notice when the soft spring green now shyly peeking up through the soil gives way to a smoking expanse of scorched earth.

Help me!

I went out yesterday and took photos of some of the things now growing in our precious .17 acres.  If you recognize any of them, or can tell me what to do with/to them to keep them from perishing, please leave me a highly detailed and informative message in the comments. Please.  Our neighbors’ property values are in your hands.


1. I did some googling and found out that this lovely thing is called a Corkscrew Willow. Isn't it pretty?


2. I'm fairly certain that this is a rosebush. A couple of people have mentioned that I need to prune it as soon as possible, and explained how to do it, but I think I might fare better with some written instructions.


3. Unidentified Bush-Type Growth A


4. Unidentified Bush-Type Growth B


5. Unidentified Bush-Type Growth C


6. Unidentified Bush-Type Growth D


7. There are several of these little patches of green stuff scattered around throughout the landscaping. Are they there on purpose? Perhaps aliens left them as a message? Or the Jolly Green Giant sneezed all over my yard?


8. As you can see, there are some green shoots coming up through the corpse of what is clearly a dead plant. Should I cut the dead part away? Or leave it as food for the new life chewing its way through to the sun?


9. This is just yucky. And dead. I'm pretty sure, anyway. But you should know that I did not do it this time. It was like this when we got here.


10. I think these are two different kinds of plants. They look like they might just need to be watered. Could I be so lucky?

And just a few more questions:

1) We have a hook for a hanging basket on the front porch.  What kind of plants do well up there in the air like that?  And can I buy a basket already planted, or will I need to fix it up myself?

2) I noticed weed and seed mix (or was it weed and feed?) on sale at the store.  Is that really necessary?  And when should I put it on?  And how should I put it on?  And how often do I need to water our lawn?  And why does crabgrass have such an ugly name?

3) How much would it cost to give this whole yard/planting/landscaping thing a pass and hire someone else to do it?  Because I am this close to covering the entire shebang with gravel and calling it a zen garden.


16 responses »

  1. Hi Katrina,

    Loved your Story, and do not fret you are not alone. I am sure you have a great deal of other Talnets, but with the plants, well it takes a lot of trial and error before you get that >light bul going off in your head effect:) It looks like your in a northern area, exact location, State should suffice to get you the answers you need. I am a Landscaper from Miami, FLA. and have been living in Switzerland for nearly 20 years now, and your story reminded me of when I first came over, and could not decipher a Weed from a Perennial. You have what looks like the makings for a Garden Gem, and it just requires a little TLC, correct instructions and Nature usually will take care of itself, sometimes we have to help her and other times it is best when we get out of her Way, LOL! Drop me a line with some more Details and I would be glad to share what I know with you, and I should be able to point you in the right direction for the information you desire!
    Have a Fantastic Weekend and I look forward to hearing from you!

    Rocky Bradley

  2. K, sweetie. Here goes. Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion and it’s hard to tell by the pictures.

    1st picture down – looks like you already know. Cool tree. Never seen one before.

    2nd picture down – yep, looks like a rose bush to me too. But maybe a climbing rose bush which gets the super long arms on them. They bloom like crazy too. To prune: get a good set of pruning shears and cut branch at an angle at a “joint” (where the leaf or leaf bud this time of year) and main branch meet. Or, just Google rose bush pruning. I’m sure there’s pictures. We have one of these outside Chase’s window for obvious “sneak out” repelant when she gets older. They are really hearty and you would literally have to run over it with a truck to hurt it.

    3rd picture down – looks like an overgrown Boxwood. It’s a shrub. If it’s got barbs on it it’s a Barberry. I can’t tell.

    4th picture down -could be a lilac.

    5th picture down – not sure but it looks similar to a plant (not a bush) I have in the backyard that gets about 12″ tall and has beautiful orange flowers on it. The leaves look similar. The leaves will open more and look like shape of a lilly pad but not the same texture.

    6th picture down – that definately looks like a lilac although you never can be sure until some color pops out.

    7th picture down – some sort of mossy ground cover. More than likely there on purpose. Probably will get either purple or white flowers.

    8th picture down – those are day lillies. Either bright yellow or orangish brown. More than likely yellow.

    9th picture down – yeah, I got nothin’…dead!

    10th picture down – yes, two separate plants. Those look like rhododendrons or “rhodies”. You’ll love them. They do require rhodie food available at Home Depot or Lowes. I learned that the hard way after planting ours in the backyard and them never blooming. You have to feed it? Wish the guy told me that when I bought it.

    Hope that helps. Most outdoor plants are pretty hearty and require a lot less maintenance than indoor plants. Don’t worry, if it dies, it was on it’s way before you bought the house. Suggestion – we love to get our plants, bushes and trees at Huckleberry’s up on 95 in Hayden. They have great staff and are VERY knowledgable and have comparable prices.

  3. I believe zen gardens are filled with sand and a few large, strategically place rocks. Oh, and you’ll need a big wooden rake so you can rake the sand in your zen garden. That’s what they’re for, after all. 🙂

  4. I believe 8 and 9 are types of Hostas. Rake the dead away quickly before the sprouts are big enough to damage. Generally this is also done in the late fall when the leaves have died.

  5. I don’t know anything about anything. I knew what the plants in our yard were when I bought them, but I quickly forgot.

    On watering… During the warm months of July and August, we water about 30 minutes a day with oscillating sprinklers. Seems about right. We also put fertilizer spikes around most of the trees and bushes once a year.

  6. My strategy is this. If it’s pretty to me, leave it there. If it’s ugly or not appearing to green up in the next couple weeks, pull it out. Lowes and Home Depot only stock plants that grow well in your area so they are good places to either identify the ones in your yard or get new ones. There are also lots of websites that show easy growing plants for your region.

    And, mulch covers a multitude of sins, so I suggest lots of that! At least then it looks tidy, if uninteresting!

  7. My advice? Ignore them all (except the old dead leaves, get rid of those, and that dead thing- it looks like fodder for a stickhorn). Pray for some rain. Allow natural selection to take place. If it makes it through this summer, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. Remind me to never lay down in your yard while wearing green. I’m not that big of a risk taker. I’ll stick to the rumpus room.

  8. When we were in Moscow we had to put in a yard and planted a TON of stuff. We had no clue what we were doing, and had to learn the whole trial and error of what to trim up in the fall and what looks dead, but pops back up next year. Then we had to relearn that lesson with our plants at this house. Your third picture from the bottom-we have two HUGE ones of those and I spent the day a couple of weekends ago pulling off all that dead junk. I had the same dilemma as to whether I should trim it in the fall next year to avoid such an ugly mess, or let it do the same thing, because it looks like all those dead fronds provided insulation for the green stuff to grow. The jury is still out. Anyway, the good news is that you can probably spend a year or two doing very little and the plants will do just fine. Then once you figure it out a little, you can get a bit more involved. Good luck! I’ve actually learned to enjoy gardening a little!

  9. I have absolutely nothing to add about plants, because I, too, kill every one that enters my home.

    I do, however, wish to say, “Woo hoo!” on seeing a new post.

    Good luck with your plants. I’ll be in the rumpus room with Kathy.

  10. 3 looks like a cottoneaster – very hearty and you can’t hurt it. Really. You can’t. I am the Queen of Black Thumbs and I know these things. (but I see someone else thinks it is a Boxwood. And that could be too.

    6 looks like a lilac and a fairly young one. Just water them and they’ll be fine. They like to be picked. So cut the stems with blossoms and put them in a vase and enjoy for about two weeks.

    I’ve solved the problem with my indoor plants – I bought very real looking fake ones. Nobody knows. I don’t think this works outside. I think the neighbor next door that has a green thumb would take umbrage. So I hide them indoors. If the cats pee in them, just rinse them off and you’re good to go.

  11. I’ve read a lot of your responses abd only have a few
    ‘pearls’. I’m assuming you live near me in a certain NI city so this is what I was told or learned along the way.
    1-Don’t plant annuals before the snow is off Mica Peak
    or don’t plant annuals before Mothers Day.
    2- Look locally because those are the plants that will survive.
    3-Start planting perenials or hardy re-seeding annuals because they’ll be back next year.
    (I didn’t say buy- ask neighbors or friends if you can have some of theirs- reeseeding annuals or perennials needing to be separated)
    4- If you’re not sure how a plant might take over a space-sink a medium plastic planting container and plant it there–ask me about my mint disaster of 1994!
    5-Check the Library or used book store for a basic Inland NW garden book—great information for the ‘black thumb gardener’
    6–This is the most important ‘pearl’-
    Let them all know that they ‘serve at the pleasure of the gardener’ (you), you’ll treat them fairly, BUT THEY CAN BE FIRED WITHOUT CAUSE!
    Have fun and I have a lot of starters for you if you want them.

  12. I’m guessing number 7 is creeping phlox or something similar. I can’t recall if I’ve said it yet, so just in case I didn’t, the house looks great and I am so glad you and tato have room to breathe!

  13. I think #7 is Scotch Moss. It gets bigger every year and also spreads other places. It has little white flowers and is very pretty, it even stays mostly green all year.

  14. #7 looks like a plant Daniel and I bought when we rented our first house. I can’t remember the name but it had really pretty little blue flowers on it and was a ground cover. If I recall, it needed partial shade. Ours died for some unknown reason (Maybe the plant killing is hereditary. No wait! Mom and Grandma are total green thumbs. Maybe it’s just us).
    As for the tree, it will need pruning at certain times. Ask Georgette or the Brown’s. They are all experts and the ones I learned from when I was taking care of the Prayer Garden trees.

  15. I am late to the party here, but it sounds like you got some good advice. Hopefully by now some of those things are coming alive. Gardening is a process and you learn much from mistakes and pulling those lovely flowers instead of weeds. I look forward to seeing more of your plants and yard.

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