I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the age-old saying ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. And I’ve decided the warning should be amended to include gardeners.
Gardeners bearing gifts of live plants should be welcomed with open arms and, if possible, the offer of a glass of something cold on a hot day. And while you’re offering your hospitality in return, be sure you look that gift horse squarely in the mouth and investigate the long-term effects it will have on your gardening future before you ever sink a root into the ground.
My foreboding comments stem directly from experience, as several years ago I accepted a bucket of green and leafy sprigs from a well-meaning soul. I was told they would produce wild plum bushes laden with fruits a little larger than sandhill plums, and that they were great for making jams and jellies. Since I had struggled to get a few measly sandhill plums growing at our place, I welcomed them with open arms and planted them at the edge of my berry thicket.
These plants immediately sprang to life, and like the blob that ate the New Jersey Turnpike, they moved right into the berries, overtook a small serviceberry tree, and then marched toward my iris and daylily beds. They produced abundant foliage on shrubs that approached small tree height. Each spring they sent out sucker roots in all directions, yet they produced few blooms and nary a single plum.
A Johnny-come-lately investigation on my internet horticulture sites brought forth a veritable Greek tragedy of woes and horror stories about small farmsteads and backyards completely succumbing to prunus americana. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a single success story about getting rid of the stuff.
I was on my own in my fight with a prairie pest that surely must be a cousin to southern kudzu vine. You know, the ropey green monster that has engulfed Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Well, my version of the wild American plum was headed for similar infamy.
There are eight varieties of American plums that can be found in Kansas, and they seem to thrive on our western plains. They have even helped form a cottage industry of jam and jelly production that is doing well in many Kansas product shops. Unfortunately for me, I wound up with prunus americana when I should have planted prunus augustifolia. These make up the wild sandhill plum thickets that settle into low places and along creek beds, with plants that are a manageable 3 to 4 feet in height and seem to be slow and steady growers as they provide lovely salmon colored fruits by the handful.
What I had instead was a barren shrubby tree that can top out at 25 feet and is capable of moving like a racehorse across my lawn, garden, and flowerbed.
After cutting it back and chopping it out to no avail, two years ago I finally resorted to a more lethal means of control. I don’t want to dwell on the gory details, but let’s just say it involved a sprayer of Roundup. A slow death was followed by burning the corpses on a funeral pyre, then digging out the roots just to make sure they couldn’t rise up like the fiend from Hell.
I didn’t go so far as to sow the ground with salt, as legends of vampire disposal recommend. I can’t say I’m happy about the rise and fall of the American plum at my place, but sometimes the treeless plains need to stay that way. Lesson learned…the hard way.
Skip Mancini lives and gardens in Haskell County. “Growing on the High Plains” airs weekly in western Kansas on High Plains Public Radio, 91.1 FM, at 10:30 a.m. Thursdays and 8:35 a.m. Saturdays. The program can also be heard on the station’s website, www.hppr.org.