Grab Bag

Some people should stick to plastic plants

by Guest Blogger Wendy Tweten, who’s shown herself to be a garden writer willing to jump in her car in search of just one more gorgeous Portland garden – during which adventure I learned there’s an inner ranter behind her friendly face. Garden coach Sue Goetz was riding shotgun that afternoon. Susan
Wendy

The time has come for me to put down the trowel, emerge
from my herbaceous border, and throw
down the gauntlet. Once again I’ve been
listening to my favorite radio gardening shows, and once again I’m amazed at the
spray-first-ask-questions-later mentality of so many of the callers. But what
has finally set me to ranting and waving the secateurs are the namby-pamby
replies of the experts on the other end of the
line.

Pruned your cherry tree down to nubbins? That’s okay. Sprayed your fruit trees with Orthene when the bees were out? Don’t fret.
Whether on radio, TV, or in the newspaper, the typical gardening guru responds
to all questions – no matter how inane – with an understanding smile and a pat
on the head. Enough, I say. What some people need is more of a swift pat on the
fanny.

Consider the woman who said she’d recently noticed a
strange, scaly growth on her azaleas. Without hesitation – and without bothering
to do anything as boring as read a pesticide label – she grabbed the first
chemical that came to hand and sprayed her entire garden with
Malathion.

Wendy4cropped
Now let’s break this down. First of all, the strange,
scaly growth was no doubt lichen, nature’s benign and interesting little tree
decoration. Lichen is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and (usually)
algae. It exists to photosynthesize, not to kill the shrubbery. In any case, the
lichen didn’t deserve to die, so it’s fortunate Malathion doesn’t kill it. This
insecticide is, however, great at snuffing out honeybees. I live in hope the
Malathion will cause the lichen to mutate into a big, fanged freak of nature
that feeds upon homeowners who don’t read pesticide labels. Feed me, Seymour, indeed.

Think people: if the baby develops a rash, we don’t rush
to the cleaning cupboard to douse him in Lysol (at least I hope not). Here’s the
drill: 1) find out what you’re dealing with, 2) find out if it’s hurting
anything, 3) if forced to take action, choose the least toxic control, and 4)
follow label directions.

Anyway, we haven’t yet finished with “Miss Malathion.” When the lichen survived the toxic assault, she snapped on her gloves and
proceeded to peel it from the branches (I suspect it also bothers her that her
garden is full of dirt). “There,” she’ll say when her beloved azaleas – now
devoid of lichen – go to that great compost heap in the sky. “I told you that
scaly stuff would kill my plants.” Of course, the poor plants will have died
from having their bark skinned away with the tightly adhering
lichen.

Perhaps it’s time for all serious and sustainable
gardeners to trade the hori hori knife for a cutlass in the teeth. The moral is
this: when dealing with certain people, as with certain plants, we must apply a
bit of acid if we are ever to help them go green. Also, some people should stick
to plastic plants.

Posted by on October 18, 2008 at 5:16 am, in the category Grab Bag.
Comments are off for this post

27 Responses to “Some people should stick to plastic plants”

  1. Garden & Co. says:

    hello, guest ranter! i am currently becoming certified as a master gardener in my home state and it is one unfortunate, lamentable state of affairs that my INSTRUCTOR has recommended ‘Round Up’. I cannot help but be offended by the base use of the English language in the title of the product alone, much more, the recommendation by an instructor to actually buy it and USE it. What to do? I have not decided how to approach the problem, other than ignore the bad and extract the good from the course. However, if you continue to post…maybe the point will reach the researchers (and, by the by, the instructors at the research institutes). Thank you for your article. Garden & Co.

  2. Nice rant Wendy. There are indeed times when a dose of acid is needed to break through to some gardening purists who believe their gardens should not be a home to anything but the perfectly coiffed plants. The fear of bugs is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Sadly I have encountered some who are completely resistant to repeated applications of the acid tongue.

    Garden & Co there is nothing wrong with the judicious use of glyphosate.

  3. Garden & Co. says:

    I am not really sure what ‘Round Up’ is made of, however, the Scott’s website for the product writes the word, “kill”, 9 times before you ever scroll down. Kill, Kill, Killer, Kill, Killer, Kill, Kill, Killer, Kill. Seems a little dangerous to me…maybe some ladybugs instead. I just couldn’t get past the advert for the product when it was brought to my attention in class to find out how glyphosate is produced…maybe I am naive, but, I don’t spray with anything except maybe some soap and water. Maybe Christopher C NC can talk me into ‘Round Up’?

  4. Aunt Ida says:

    Good rant, Wendy. That’s the main point I make when I teach classes on how to get yards certified as wildlife habitats through NWF. I start with good bug/bad bug ID and lifecycle, the judicious use of pesticides, if used at all. Even the bad bugs provide a meal for good bugs and birds!

    BTW, on the main page of NWF, you can read an interview with the candidates about their views on conservation.

  5. susan harris says:

    Here’s a summary of the Integrated Pest Management approach to Roundup, called “When good people use Roundup.”
    http://www.sustainablegardeningblog.com/archives/403

  6. Most people hear what they only want to hear and their point of perspective of how they handle a problem is based on their priorities, culture, and unfortunately,what is most easiest for them.

    Reaching for a canned or bottled ‘instant gratification cure-all” has been a part of the American culture since the dawn of the Industrial age.

    Fortunately evolution is changing this tide and slowly the message is creeping into the twenty first century mindset that there are other less toxic chemical solutions to solve a problem.
    You see this change of sentiment taking hold in institutions such as holistic medicine approaches to organic produce departments in the grocery store and even in responsible financial investment strategies whose dividends benefit both the investor and a third world country beneficiary.

    The key is education.
    This takes time or in certain cases a crisis that will propel the media into spot-lighting the topic .

    So keep on ranting! This is good. It’s a form of education that hopefully will reach Ms. Malathion someday.

  7. Rosella says:

    I am a positive paragon of soapy-water-spraying eco-gardening awareness, but even I use Round-up from time to time. Soapy water doesn’t do nuttin to remove such garden thugs as houtynia (which I myself introduced into my shady damp garden area). It is a hideous pest, and cannot be removed by pulling because every little broken root node left in the soil will sprout a new plant. So — glyphosate to the rescue, sprayed on a windless day and very carefully. Not that the houtynia is totally gone, but it is somewhat less enthusiastic and is giving the Japanese anemones a chance at life at last. And ditto for the the occasional eruptions of poison ivy which the birds bring us generously.

  8. You write, “Whether on radio, TV, or in the newspaper, the typical gardening guru responds to all questions – no matter how inane – with an understanding smile and a pat on the head. Enough, I say. What some people need is more of a swift pat on the fanny.” …I’m picturing a garden personality or a pair of personalities akin to the Brothers from Boston on Car Talk. You bet I’d tune in.

  9. Garden & Co. says:

    I realize that you can’t believe EVERYTHING you read….but, I have been reading today about Roundup…now I even know it is one word. Here is a good link for the product! http://www.nwrage.org/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2190

  10. susan harris says:

    Well, golly gosh, did you happen to check the link I recommended, the one that contains what _actual scientists_ have to say on the subject? Reading only what advocacy groups have to say just guards against any possibility of – god forbid – having your mind changed.

  11. Garden & Co. says:

    Ms. Harris, to tell the truth, I did not know what Roundup was or is until very recently, when, it was suggested several times over to my class of potential master gardeners. So, until today, I had NO idea that it is a topic that makes people so angry. I can only speak for myself when I say that I went to the Scott’s website advertisement for the stuff and was totally turned off by their corporate logos to kill without reading ANY advocacy groups tales. I understand that you use it. I used to use Seven Dust before I decided to become an organic gardener. And, I don’t know the chemical compound of Seven Dust, either. It IS quite interesting to read advocacy group positions…hell, they go to a lot of trouble to formulate their 501c’s and build a website and get funding, etc. You and I are just writing on our blogs about Roundup…But, I did go and read your post on Roundup. And, it is your prerogative to defend it on your blog. I am not allergic to poison ivy. Not everyone is. So, I guess that is why I don’t seek propaganda on Roundup. However, I must make one point: I don’t think that it is a good idea for a master gardener instructor, after having me sign on the line stating that I will not endorse products as a master gardener, should endorse Roundup. It IS a controversial product. And, my instructor’s quote is, “I just grab my Roundup and go.” I think I will continue to ignore the Roundup recommendations as long as I can.

  12. susan harris says:

    Well, I think we’ve found an area of total agreement – in opposition to MG trainers promoting chemicals (of any kind, I’d add), and I have a post coming on that subject. Thanks for the suggestion. My MG training included rampant recommendations of chemicals of all types with no mention of their environmental consequences.

  13. Garden & Co. says:

    great! I can’t wait to read that post. You can imagine what it’s like to sit in a class in DEEP DEEP South Carolina and have Roundup said over and over again in our accent while trying to figure out what the hell it is…Thanks for the topic discussion today. I needed it.

  14. Garden & Co I don’t need to convince you to use Glyphosate, an herbicide that kills weeds. I use it as little as possible, preferring a thick layer of mulch and hand weeding for the most part. If you are becoming a Master Gardener and plan to be in this field for some time you will encounter a situation were Glyphosate may be the only realistic option open to you. Being from Deep Deep South Carolina I bet this situation will come in the form of Kudzu.

  15. horsin'around says:

    I think no one should be allowed to use poisons until they have read Silent Spring and passed a detailed written examination covering the material. Then, if they’re not convinced…I agree. They should be sticking to plastic plants.

  16. Old Kim says:

    I gotta watch my mouth with some customers coming in for our fall clearance sale. So some trees have a few holes in their leaves. They ask if the tree needs to be sprayed with something. I politely say look across the street where native plants grow and most of them have holey leaves. It’s natural!
    Glad I’m not a plant because I have way too many flaws.

  17. Judy Lowe/Diggin' It says:

    I’m in agreement about banal answers on call-in programs, but am interested that no one questioned Wendy’s “diagnosis” of lichen. She could easily be right — especially if the radio program mentioned was in Washington State, where she lives — but I grew azaleas in the South for umpteen years without ever seeing any lichen.

  18. jenn says:

    Out here in the desert, people use Roundup and similar products to keep those barren rockscapes pristine.

    But here’s the story that really burns me. My friend [who is decidedly not a gardener] bought a house that had a pristine saguaro – coupla hundred years old, many arms, not a mark on it.

    Nature moved in, and a bird hollowed out a hole for a nest. My idiot friend did not consult his gardener friend, no. He was determined to remove the bird before it moved in completly.

    So he sprayed his saguaro with a bleach solution. Yeah, baby.

    That saguaro now has nature living it. The bird was not deterred by the bleach. And a huge brown dripping stain anywhere the bleach hit it.

    Monstrous and stupid.

  19. Lisa says:

    I consider myself Ms. Organic, but in SC, the only way to get rid of bermuda grass (yuck) or kudzu, for that matter, is to use glyphosphate (AKA Round-Up). I’m not happy about that, but these are TOUGH weeds.

    I’m happy to tolerate dandelions, winter annuals, or anything else that I can deal with by hand.

    In the grand scheme of things (I’m a plant ecologist by background), it’s MUCH less harmful to spray a short-lived herbicide like Roundup to eliminate an invasive weed, than to use a broad-spectrum insecticide that kills all insects, beneficial and otherwise.

  20. Barry Prince says:

    If you want to listen to a less than tolerant radio show host with his chemical spewing listeners, try Howard Garrett in Texas. He is very impatient with callers discussing the use of anything non-organic. He is not rude, but he has a lot of zeal, so he does get a little edgy (to me)compared to one of our other major radio hosts Neil Sperry (somewhat of a head patter). Neil is not so favorably inclined to some of the organic approaches advocated by Howard, nor is he as poorly disposed to non-organic approaches.

    I am 100% organic and have been so for at least 10 years, and listened faithfully to Howard Garrett (pro-organic). I must confess that I grew weary over time listening to the organic party line rather than discussing plants and other aspects of gardening. For those of you that prefer to promote the organic elements of gardening, please consider that it can grow a bit tiresome. I value your cause and your efforts to educate, but sometimes I just want to listen to shows about plants and gardening.

  21. kim says:

    After reading all these comments, I am going to back away slowly, not making eye contact with anyone in the room.

    Am I allergic to poison ivy. Heck yes, along with another 75% or more of the population. I hand pull and dig it (well covered and gloved) because I don’t want to encounter the roots later and be unprotected. Do I constantly harangue Garden Man for his chemical tendencies? Yes. But I do use RoundUp on Bermuda grass. Nothing else, not even hours on hands and knees digging, pulling and ripping out does the trick. I think the issue here is ignorance – maybe we SHOULD require a license to use -icides, but then, that smacks of more government, doesn’t it? So the best course is to educate, educate, educate. And Rant.

    So, I lied. Now I’ll back quietly out of the room.

  22. suzq says:

    Reminds me of one of the plants in my front garden–can’t think of the name right now. About mid-summer, the plants look completely eaten up. I was going to pull them out when I read that they were the host plant for a certain kind of butterfly. I still don’t like the ratty way they look, but I live with it.

  23. Peg says:

    In my experience, a whole lotta people who use Roundup (perhaps the majority of the ones who buy it) do so because they are simply too lazy to pull weeds and/or too self-absorbed to care what it might do to the other people/animals/insects/plants in the immediate vicinity. What makes me madder than people who use it indiscriminately are the people who claim to be “scientists” who think they must automatically know more about it than a lowly gardener…even though these people of science tend to make ludicrous claims such as “it breaks down to vinegar in a few days.”

  24. Old Kim says:

    Garden Guru’s like Christopher Lloyd praised glyphosate. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to control weeds. Gonna be using it tomorrow because a billion shot weed seedlings are emerging. Common sense says keep my pets inside for the day. My little nose sniffing Scotty lived an active 15 years even though I used Round Up. My friend who sprays her weeds with it has cats that live to 25.
    I wouldn’t be using it if science proved it killed more than weeds.

  25. Peg says:

    Okay, doubters, so I googled “malathion cancer monsanto roundup” and got a whole lot of interesting links….including one at a website called chem-tox.com which features a number of links to previous articles mentioning scientific studies on pesticide use and the risks to human health.

    But heck, y’all just go on spraying weeds with cancer-causing chemicals instead of digging them out–I mean, that might involve actual gardening.

  26. Peg all chemicals are not created equally toxic, nor are they all pesticides, nor are they all man made. No one is recommending spraying things willy nilly. As a matter of fact Wendy started her rant with “I’m amazed at the spray-first-ask-questions-later mentality.” Spraying anything with anything is a last resort.

    IPM, Integrated Pest Management, http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm
    is a knowledge based approach to weed and pest control.

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