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Diggin' It

When good plants go bad: The transplanted gardener on green meanies

By Craig Summers Black / June 9, 2009

Variegated lily of the valley is an attractive plant, but spreads aggressively.

Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black


Charming little thing, that variegated lily of the valley. (See photo above.) Not only does it have those nodding white fragrance pills in the spring, it sports its streamlined ensemble all year long.

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I found it at a now-shuttered mail-order nursery that specialized in variegated plants. I was looking for something else actually, but the shrub in question turned out to be about a hundred bucks, and it was large and heavy (“established,” so it might actually survive my Zone 5 winters), so shipping would also be pricey.

I sensibly switched gears, settling for three of the Convallaria majalis pips. I remember thinking that they also were spendy, but I would be “saving” so much money by skipping that two-toned aralia.

They arrived looking quite meek, each about the size of my index finger. I was glad I bought more than one because I now had doubts about survivability.

I should not have worried.

At first, the plant was a slow spreader, and I was cheered. But then – I must have been distracted for a few years because I didn’t really notice – areas of my lily patch reverted to green and assumed quite an aggressive character.

And my bold, brightly colored “tropical” garden out the kitchen window became a sea of shiny green leaves. This, I decided far too late, shall not stand.

After yet another heavy spring rain, I got out my heaviest shovel (yes, I have several different kinds) and attacked the patch. I was vaguely able to discern a pattern where variegation shifted into an all-green machine and I started digging. And digging and digging.

Who knew that such tiny plants grew so deep?

The rains had made my black dirt awfully heavy, but it also meant I was able to lift plants with rootlets (mostly) intact, as the ends of the fragile white fibers tended to ease out of the ground with the root ball.

What I ended up with was this:













I placed the ne’er-do-wells on a tarp to make sure wayward rootlets didn’t take on a life of their own. And if the weather ever gets dry, this hulk of mud will dry and get lighter, so I can pull the tarp to an unused patch of land and let it bake under the summer sun.

And I plan to let this heap bake a long time because I have to make sure every single one of the little white hairs gives up the ghost. Or else I will have to start over again.

Not a pretty picture is it?

Other plants with mean green fever

There are no perfect plants, and it is almost axiomatic in dealing with  variegated plants that you must be ever-vigilant to nip reversion to green in the bud.

Ligustrum bushes were my first encounter with green meanies. Since then, my horse-of-a-different-color problems have run the gamut: A yellow-edged euonymus suddenly sends up long green limbs. Variegated brunnera acquires a green skirt.

But the worst are ornamental grasses. Digging out the all-green leaves from a rock-hard rootball often requires an ax.

And in every instance, the green plant material must be excised, because it is far more aggressive than the two-toned variety, and it will take over.

Note: The first Monitor gardening photo contest will end on June 15. Photos that have been uploaded to the Gardening With the Monitor group pages on Flickr will be judging by our photo staff, and at least two prizes will be awarded. Don't miss out!

If you've missed earlier posts by the Transplanted Gardener, click here and look for the links at the bottom of the article.

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