I can fix invasive plant problems

April 23, 2002|BY Tim Rowland

Lawn and garden season has begun, a fact that is easily detectable in that it is no longer possible to walk into a grocery store for a loaf of bread, or a gas station for a fill-up or a department store for a bottle of Windex without being assaulted by so much flora and fauna you feel as if you have just stepped out of a dugout canoe in the heart of the Congo.

I hate it. I hate it because I can't resist it. It's a sucker's bet, but every year I buy tons of foliage and about three silos worth of seed, figuring this will be the year when my luck turns and the plants will actually bear flowers and edible products - or at least still be alive by the time I get them home from the store.

It never happens, though. Nothing lives long enough to bloom. Flowers that are blooming at the time of purchase wilt as soon as they are placed in a pot. Vegetable seeds sprout and the plants look like county fair champions until just before they are scheduled to bear, then they in unison wither to dust with such impeccable timing it's as if they'd been directed by Elizabeth Schulze.


My gardening skills are so poor the neighborhood rabbits caucused and gave me a vote of no-confidence. My dehydrated beets may be the only vegetable that causes a cutworm to break a tooth.

I mean, parsley. How hard is it to grow stupid parsley? They sell it for 52 cents a bale in the produce aisle, for crying out loud. Mine lasted four days. It didn't even bother turning yellow before it died, it just died.

People ask me what kind of soil I have.

I don't know, the brown kind, I guess. I'm told the people who built the house a century ago were some of the early energy barons in Hagers-town, and I tend to believe it based on my excavations. I called up the extension office and asked "What kind of plants grow good in coal?"

I got fed up the other day and walked over to my friend Ryan's house, but there was no escape; he was landscaping, too. Or de-landscaping, more accurately. He had a few problematic, sequoia-sized yew trees next to the house with taproots to the earth's core that had to be removed.

To get rid of these ancient stumps, Ryan and his roommate Chris had drawn up a blueprint that was much like the Marshall Plan for comprehensiveness, although nowhere near as simple.

I don't have space to go into all the nuances and advanced preparation, but launch time was scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday. The grand finale involved (conservatively) two miles of chains and I think every available four-wheel drive pickup between Halfway and Asheville, N.C.

I don't know if you ever saw any of those 20 Mule Team Borax ads, but that is almost what this setup looked like, if you can mentally substitute a pickup truck for a mule.

A person couldn't help but be impressed with this dubiously juxtaposed conglomeration of equipment pointed every which way. With a sort of religious awe a la Ned Flanders, I walked up and said "How do you do it, Ryan? How do you turn off that little voice in your head that says, 'Think?'"

But he didn't hear me; he gave the word, and about a million liters of V-8 engine screamed to life. There were many possible outcomes for this exercise, all of which we had duly considered. The chains could snap, the wheels could lose their grip and spin, the stumps could simply not move, too much of the root ball could move, pulling the foundation and adjoining sewer pipes along for the ride. My own personal favorite was an image of the stumps still firmly in place, chained to eight bumpers lying in the middle of the road with eight bumperless pickups sitting square in the living rooms of the houses across the street.

But there was one possibility that I swear, not one of us had ever considered: The scheme worked to perfection and the shrubs were laid low. I credit myself. With me in attendance, even yews that thrived for five decades did not have a prayer of survival.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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