"If only plants could talk," by the Whistling Gardener

The Whistling Gardener is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
The Whistling Gardener is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

Plants are a lot like pets in that they are living creatures that want to be loved and cared for. They want to leave the pet store (substitute plant store) and be adopted by some loving family that will care for them.

No one in their right mind would bring home a new puppy and not make sure it had water and food all the time, yet home owners time and time again bring home new plants, water them once and then leave them to fend for themselves. Too bad plants can’t talk

New plants are just as vulnerable as new puppies, only they can’t whine or whimper when they are hungry or thirsty. It is our responsibility to make sure they are properly cared for and sometimes that involves educating ourselves as to how exactly to do that.

This is obviously not an intuitive process for some people. Always ask questions at the time of your purchase. Nursery professionals are an excellent resource when it comes to gardening knowledge.

As the expressions goes: “It is always easier to answer a stupid question than fix a stupid mistake.”

I can assure you that 90% of the time, if a plant fails to establish itself it is a water related problem. In the winter it would be too much water or lack of drainage and in the summer it would be insufficient water around the root ball caused by backfilling with bone dry soil or not watering deeply enough at the time of transplanting.

You don’t have to be a seasoned gardener to be successful at growing. Once you get your new plant home, follow these simple steps: plant it, water it, feed it, love & care for it. That’s it, no rocket science involved.

The step people miss the most is the love & care part. Adopt your plants into your family and give them ongoing attention and care, just as you would for new children and pets. Even if you forget to water one day, don’t give up and think that’s the end! Make up for it the next day with a good watering and some extra TLC.

It’s important to remember that plants need to learn to crawl before they can walk and walk before they can run and to do this they need our helping hands.

A plant brought home from the garden center is being thrust into a new and foreign environment and until it has got its legs firmly planted in the ground will not survive without our assistance.

It will usually take a year or two for a plant to get truly established and even well-established plants will need a little extra help from us when the mercury rises to 95 degrees and the annual rainfall is seven inches below normal.

So as the “Mother Superior” of this plant orphanage I call a garden center, I beseech every one of you to take your job seriously when it comes to bringing home a new plant.

Care for it, love it and nurture it until it can stand on its own two legs (or in this case roots) and remember that in reality plants do in fact talk to us, we just need to tune in and learn their language. It’s probably a blessing that they don’t speak our language or some of us might get an earful.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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