It’s perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant that isn’t performing the way you think it should. Your garden space is too valuable to be wasted on drab vegetation that doesn’t live up to expectations.

This proclamation comes after a garden club member at a recent program said she had been growing an “Endless Summer” hydrangea for 10 years, and it had yet to produce a single blossom.

Some other people in the audience offered ideas about why the plant hadn’t produced flowers. My thought was – although I showed remarkable restraint and didn’t say anything: “Why haven’t you gotten rid of it?”

Sure it’s gorgeous if it blooms. But what if your “Endless Summer” hydrangea refuses to bloom and never looks like this? It’s OK to jettison plants that just don’t work for you, says columnist Tom Atwell. qiufan bu/Shutterstock

Yes, new plants take some patience. A couple of phrases I have heard over the years are “Keep, creep and leap” and “Survive, strive and thrive.” What these rhymes mean is that after the shock of transplanting from pot to garden, a plant won’t produce much until the third year. But in the fourth and fifth years, if it still isn’t doing well, make some adjustments.

I’m not picking on “Endless Summer,” which can be beautiful if it gets enough water, not too much fertilizer or hot afternoon sun, and the winter weather wasn’t too cold and windy. I feel the same about any ornamental plant.

If it hasn’t done well, it either doesn’t like where you planted it or you are not watering or fertilizing it correctly. Try adjusting those factors first. The next step, if your yard is large enough and has open spots and enough variations of soil or light, would be to move the plant within your own property. People do that often, sometimes so often that I (or my wife Nancy) might say, “That plant should have come with wheels.”

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Eventually, you may very well find a spot that works – both for you and the plant.

But poor performance isn’t the only reason to remove a plant. Sometimes the plant is growing well, blooming abundantly and otherwise doing just what the label says it should. The plant is fine, it’s just that you don’t like it as much as you thought you would when you bought it.

Give yourself permission to get rid of it. I know thrifty Mainers hate to give up on something that cost them quite bit of money. But why keep something that displeases you?

The next question is how to dispose of it.

You can dig up and remove herbaceous perennials at any time. With shrubs and trees, though, after the roots have been growing for few years, it’s not so easy to dig them out. You may have to cut your losses by cutting the plant down.

Assuming you can dig it out, and it is healthy, try asking friends, family, neighbors or acquaintances if they’d like a plant that just didn’t work for you. But be sure the person getting the plant lives nearby. With so many invasive pests living in the soil – among them gypsy moth, brown-tail moth and jumping worms, you don’t want to give it to someone who will plant it a hundred miles away and possibly contribute to the spread of these pests.

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If you live in a municipality where homeowners bring their own trash to the dump, you can drop off the plant you don’t want, setting it down a bit separate from the brush or compost pile – someone may pick it up. Nancy and I have one healthy, colorful PJM rhododendron that we rescued from the town transfer station. I love it each spring.

Another reason to get rid of a plant is that it has outlived its usefulness. A tree may have grown too large for your yard. It served as a statement for a couple of decades but now is out of proportion to your house. Remove it.

Nancy and I planted a row of six common lilacs in front of our house in 1976, the first spring after the house was built. We’ve pruned them and kept them in decent shape, but they aren’t what we would plant if we were starting over now.

I’m not saying we are going to remove them, but we are thinking about it. And one lilac has already made the short trip to our town’s compost facility. I’m hoping somebody picked it up and gave it a new home.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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