5 Plants I Will Never Plant Again

Ilona Erwin

I’m pretty tolerant of my own planting missteps and the plants who are the brunt of those mistakes. There are many plants that ended up in the plant cemetery only to be bought and tried yet again in my garden.

But there are a few, a small circle if you will, of plants that I will give no second chances. In my garden they are kaput. Fini. Never again. Here is the short list and reasons why I will not plant that plant again.

  1. Chinese Chestnut tree
  2. Rhododendron and azalea bushes
  3. Heathers
  4. Doronicum
  5. Astilbes

Why I decided not to plant these 5 ever again

With most plants that I have lost and decided not to retry, it is a matter of the misfit of soil or climate with the needs of the plants. As with people, plants have conditions they tolerate outside their comfort zone, but have a list of needs which they can’t do without, as well. It is when we place a plant somewhere that they will not long thrive that we face sure disappointment, and that is the case with most of these plants I will never plant again.

The Chinese Chestnut Tree

I was lured by the fact that American chestnut trees are all gone, destroyed by the chestnut blight. And I love chestnuts. So, even though I knew it was not reliably hardy in this area of Ohio, I went ahead and purchased and planted two of them anyway.

The first few years were fine, and they grew to be beautiful young trees.

But then came that blasted winter that Ohio gets now and again that seems to kill off all the roses (it did that year), and whatever is marginally hardy. I lost my beautiful Chinese chestnut trees; or they might have been hybrids, but they were lost. That is expensive firewood kindling, friends.

Lesson learned: Don’t plant trees that are outside your recommended hardiness zone. It isn’t worth the risk on plants that require so much investment. Trees are a major investment.

I will thus, as long as I live in Ohio, not plant a Chinese chestnut tree again.
Sweet Chestnut tree

Rhododendrons

I tried. I tried for more than several seasons, each time working more beautiful soil amending compost and peat moss into the soil; fertilizing with acid fertilizers; adding acidifying sulfates around the plants. But to no avail, since the plants dwindled over a couple seasons and then died.

I won’t try again. Acid plants do not do well here, and there is no amount of effort on my part that is going to change the basic conditions of my garden. The climate tends to dryness and the soils tend to alkaline, and along with the ceaseless winds, it is hostile to azaleas and rhododendrons of all types.

By now, you might have guessed that this is not about the plants, but about the gardener trying to shoehorn a wanted plant into conditions in which it will not thrive. Apply the lessons I learned to choosing plants that are best for your garden, which might be completely different plants than these examples.

Heathers

I didn’t even try Heathers here. I tried growing them in my city garden, which was much more acid-loving plant friendly, and they all died there. So I knew better and that is why these beautiful evocative little evergreen plants will not have a place in my garden.

Grouse
Grouse on an English Moor

Every acid-loving plant I have ever planted has died, and my plant cemetery holds their mouldering remains until dust turns to dust.

As you see I have tried azaleas and rhododendrons, I also tried Aronia, and Clethra alnifolia (which may get another shot), I tried Fothergilla, I tried Blueberries, and I tried a couple different family Ericaceae plants. But I don’t have a green thumb with acid plants, only keeping them the most for four years or so.

Lesson learned: Allow the climate and soil conditions dictate the plants, not the other way around. You and your garden, not to say the environment will be happier. Learn to appreciate the natural beauty of your particular place in the world.
Northeastern and Southeastern Ohio are good places for some of these plants; and if I lived there I would populate my gardens with as many as I could afford. Learn about the pH of your soil, and the rock base which makes the conditions of your soil.

Doronicum

This plant is known as Leopard’s Bane, and the gardening books I read at the time extolled it. Of course, I bought it … along with its friends Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ and Ligularia “The Rocket”. The friends lasted longer, but soon the Doronicum was gone, never to be replaced.

These are plants I won’t put in my garden for two reasons. One is that it requires me to constantly attend to it with watering every late summer “Prefers moist, humusy soils in full sun in the cooler areas of its range”, and the second reason is a bit unusual.

At the time it blooms the Dandelions are out in force. Their golden yellow heads are the same look in shape and color as the Doronicum. The gears in my head went round,”Why should I spend good money for a plant that takes so much work to grow here, and is indistinguishable from the myriad hordes of Dandelions that grow so well for me without money, time, or effort?”

This was truly and “Aha” moment. And right then I decided to never again plant Doronicum in this garden.

Astilbes

Astilbe is one of those perennials that, at the time I was immersed in perennial gardening books, had been on everyone’s top list. It was a plant that had great qualities of long bloom, beautiful foliage, it was a healthy looking, beautifully blooming plant. I wanted it!

What I did not know is how much Astilbes love and need woodsy, moisture retaining soil. Soon, they were gone, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t do enough to please them. Especially not here where it is windy, the droughts hit regularly every late summer, and there is little to no snow cover in the winter. It is a rough environment for Saxifragaceae plants that originate in these conditions: “native to mountain ravines and woodland in Asia”.

I tend to kill Saxifragaceae plants.

I know I sound like a terrible gardener, but here is the truth: most gardening is trial and error. You win some and lose many if you love to garden and try to collect plants the way I have. I am by nature something of a collector and experimenter.

Plus I had ten children to raise, but that is my excuse for everything…

If you live in Central Ohio, or a similar growing environment (many parts of the Midwest have neutral to alkaline soil pH, regular droughty conditions, zone 4 and 5 temperatures, you may also find these plants difficult if not impossible to grow. If that is you and you are thinking of planting any of these five plants, go ahead, but you’ve been cautioned.

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Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.