An annual philosophy by Elizabeth Licata

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Posted on: August 10, 2017

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Some of my elephant ear stands alone; some is planted in dense container groupings.

Certain plants exude a message of “Don’t worry, be happy.” Others continually whine, “Maintain me!” In my garden, the easiest plants I grow are the tropical or semitropicals. They require virtually nothing, much like their brethren in my office. Once in a while, I’ll cut down a dead leaf from one of the colocasia or alocasia, but other than that, given the same watering schedule as the rest of the garden, my tropical plants (mainly elephant ear, but some bananas and others) provide wow-factor from the time I plant them/bring them outdoors to the time I compost them/bring them indoors.

Given their long seasons (all year if they’re happy inside), I’m amazed that more gardeners don’t use these plants. During the GWA conference a few days ago, reps from a Florida-based tropical plant nursery (sorry, names are escaping me) told me their conference presentation would largely focus on using tropical as annuals if necessary, in order to enjoy their long seasons of interest even if the means to store them over the winter were not available.

I couldn’t agree with this advice more. In the north, we hear a lot of talk about banana plants that will overwinter, but I’ve never tried it. I just drag the pot inside where it does fine until the following May, with minimal watering. I have a big alocasia that I bring into the same room, where it continues growing, albeit more slowly. But I also compost a lot of my tropicals at the end of the season. Given what they provide, the cost of replacement is reasonable. Nonetheless, the question I am most asked about these during Garden Walk is “Do you bring this in?” In fact, that’s a question I get about many annuals, including coleus and strobilanthes (Persian Shield). Do I cut off branches and root them over the winter. Uh, no. These plants are pretty cheap and I’d rather just buy new ones in the spring than fuss about with windowsill rooting. Is this wasteful? I suppose it is, though if the plants go into the compost, they’re still contributing. But I’m also supporting my local nurseries and the mail order houses I order from, many of which are modest, family-run businesses. I feel fine about it.

What is this urge to save everything? I guess gardeners just can’t bear to see a plant die or be discarded. I get that. But I’ve learned to see every loss as an opportunity.

An annual philosophy originally appeared on Garden Rant on August 10, 2017.

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