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Are you a plant hoarder?

Numerous hosta and other plants reseed in a bed, creating a potpourri within an otherwise clean design. John Zvirovski / The Sun

We have all heard of hoarders who obtain one item after another until they cannot move in their homes, but have you ever heard of a plant hoarder? They do exist, and contrary to what I might say from time to time, you can have too many plants in a given area. What I call a plant hoarder may be different than another person’s perception. My definition is any gardener who allows too many plants to reseed in the garden and can’t bear to remove any of them for fear of causing death to them. Sound familiar?

I was once caught up in the process of plant hoarding, but have since cured myself of that malady. It is not an easy process once you have become a plant hoarder. When I first got into hoarding, it was more out of fascination over anything. When you have a garden of perennials and annuals planted, it is always fun to watch them grow. Taking in all the colors, shapes and scents one becomes mesmerized with the activity. In the years that follow, the gardener begins to notice seedlings coming up in the spring from both of these plant types. If you pay attention through the years, you acquire a taste for plant identification through their seedlings. Knowing that some of the plants you have grown are now beginning to regenerate can become very exciting. They seem to fill in the spaces in between and soon grow into a crowded mass, oftentimes eliminating the original design you created. This is where the problem begins. How does one pull a viable plant out and discard it? Worse yet, which ones do you choose over the others?

This scenario can go on year after year and pretty soon the feeling of being overwhelmed with everything hits you. You find yourself staring at the garden not even knowing where to begin. There are numerous ways of correcting this issue once it has gotten too far.

First, assess the situation and take note … literally, take note. Take out that pen and paper and take inventory of every plant that is in that space. From there, go inside, as it is easiest to just focus on the number of plants and names on a piece of paper. Now, decide which plants you must keep and how many of each to keep the design you originally intended. Decide which plants you don’t want and how many until you have a “keep” and “discard” section. The notes on the paper can make your decisions a whole lot easier.

If your garden has gotten way out of hand, a “re-do” is probably necessary. This is where you dig everything up and place all the plants to one side. Grab your “keep” list and lay them out and begin to plant. Once that is done, the hardest part is over and you will have a neat and orderly program to look at once again. Now, grab the “discard” list and look at the extra plants you have and change the numbers as necessary. You have a couple of choices. You can either use them to create a new flower bed (given you have room) or you can give them away to as many people as you can to get rid of the guilt of eliminating them from the “family.” Many people are more than happy to take on a few extra plants, especially if they are healthy. As a rule, the thin and frail plants can just be discarded as they are not really established. In time, this process of eliminating the small plants becomes easier. If you can no longer find people to give the plants away to, then you might have to bite the bullet and make them a part of your compost pile.

Common annuals that reseed from year to year are marigolds, alyssum, petunias, calendula, bells of Ireland, amaranthus, morning glories and snapdragons, just to name a few. Of the perennials, you will find purple coneflowers, phlox, sedum, galardia, litaris, wisteria and tiger lilies are very common. Often we let these items grow when they come up and say to ourselves, “Do you know what these cost in the nursery?” And with that saying is the beginning of our troubles.

This process of hoarding isn’t all bad, as each year you can decide which to keep and which to eliminate. Keep in mind that the smaller the seedling, the easier it is to pluck and discard. Remember that the definition of a weed is a plant that is growing anywhere you do not want it to grow. Good food for thought.

The benefits of letting certain things grow is that you can pick and choose what you want to stay from year to year. If a petunia or snapdragon comes up in the right spot, I might leave it for an extra color burst. Keeps me from buying some. You might even think about transferring some around the garden to make more of an impact. Perennials work the same way but act a little more permanently.

Don’t let the malady of hoarding get the best of you. Keep it all under control and get rid of things you don’t want right away to save the effort of making a hard decision later. Yanking a seedling is like pulling out a gray hair; you don’t really want it or need it in the beautiful garden you have designed.  Curing this ailment early is imperative to a beautifully kept garden … and soul.