Sometimes people forget that plants are living things and need care and attention. Please don't forget this one key element in a garden.

Plants are alive. Nature is cruel. Those are two key facts of life that nobody can deny. In Nature everything is out to survive and to do so, living things consume other living things. Us humans seem to let this concept slip. It must be some false sense of wisdom that makes us believe we can mould our surroundings into a perfect, ideal world. It doesn't happen.

Taking care of plants can be very easy in some cases, but it can also be very challenging. Though Mother Nature often tries to balance things out and bugs don't often do enough damage to plants to cause major problems, often there are circumstances that make plant predators more devastating. Predators are everywhere and they need to be accepted as being everywhere before we can deal with controlling them.

What frustrates me more than anything working in horticulture is this apparent absolution of responsibility by some gardeners. If a plant does get bugs, or winter damage, or a fungus, or any other ailment during it's life in the garden, then that's part of Nature and it needs to be accepted and addressed if possible. For too many of the population, the cause of an insect or problem with their plant is considered the responsibility of whoever they got the plant from. If you get sick, is it your parents fault? If your dog gets fleas, is it the breeders or pet store's fault? The concept of taking responsibility for a living thing seems foreign to far too many people.

I suppose that concept stems from perceiving the value of plant life as lower than the value of many other things. I can never quite grasp this concept myself. There is a hierarchy of life, of course, but plants get neglected though they deserve far more respect. Just like you go get a checkup at the doctor's office or bring your pet to the vet, at the very least, a plant should be checked regularly for problems. If there is something there, that plant in your garden is your responsibility, not mine.

The concept of warranties in gardening has been used to feed the no-responsibility concept far too often when it comes to the care and maintenance of plants. My father told me a story from 30 some odd years ago. A customer purchased a number of trees and he planted them personally for the customer. Everything was done perfectly with healthy plants. Time passed and he got a call to replace all the trees - they all died. Stunned by the comment, he went to visit the customer and look at the trees. All the plants had dried up over the summer - they were never looked at, never watered, never maintained, nothing. The customer was away all summer on holidays. Of course, my father mentioned that plants need to be watered to live. The customer, being a lawyer and the nursery in it's infancy and not being a sticklier on formalities, stated that the warranty made no mention that he had to care for the plants or even water them so they must be replaced. Common sense would assume care and watering would not need a clause, but since that day and that hard lesson, our warranty carries a "neglect" clause - it is a gardeners responsibility to at least try to keep their plants alive.

The most common cases I see of people not paying attention to their plants are rodents, insects, and water.

Often plants get watered too much or too little. Luckily, most plants don't have a major problem but annual planters and baskets get the brunt of the damage. You can't just pick a day or hour of the week to water. In cool wet conditions, plants get over-watered and the roots rot. In very hot and dry conditions, a plant dries out quickly and can need multiple waterings each day. The golden rule: Stick your finger in the pot - if it's dry, water it, if it's wet, don't. I don't care what time of the day it is or if it's not on the schedule, if a plant is dry, water it.

Insects is a tough one. There is a threshold that insects can be acceptable and will not cause any real harm to a plant. Figuring this out isn't a trivial thing, but taking the time to at least look at your plants is. If there is something odd with your plant in any way, ask somebody who knows. When asking for advice, it's best to ask the people from where you got your plant. A few plants need extra care, though, and we try to help people. Plants like birches are a real problem since the home gardener cannot stop the bugs from attacking their trees and a professional needs to be called in. At our nursery, we even put a note on the tags of our paper birches to remind people of this fact. If you do call for advice, it's also a good idea to listen to the advice. On many occasions, I have been asked for advice and given advice only to get a call a few months later from the same person who called somebody else for a "second opinion" and got bad advice. Now that plant is suffering more than ever. In one case, a houseplant had bugs so I suggested an appropriate insecticide. Not being satisfied with my answer, the customer instead called somebody else and was told to spray the entire plant in rubbing alcohol instead. Rubbing alcohol has it's purpose and that purpose is not killing insects or being sprayed on a plant.

Rodents are the third most common problem that becomes "my problem." Rodents are everywhere - in the county, in the city, in new developments, in older developments, everywhere. If a rodent need food in the winter, they will often eat the bark off a young tree, especially fruit trees. Every year, a number of trees are returned to us, completely girdled from mice or rabbits. Somehow I am always blamed and it is our responsibility to stop rodents from going into customers yards. Rodents can be in any yard and it only takes a few seconds each year to protect a tree.

If you get new car and forget to put oil in the engine, will the warranty apply? If you buy a fancy new computer and spill cola all over it, will the warranty apply? Chances are, no. So why should it with plants? Are plants any less important that they shouldn't receive proper care? Absolutely not. In fact, it is my firm belief that they should receive far more care because they are alive - a living and breathing organism contributing to our wellbeing. Please, treat your plants like they should be treated. We all need to take some responsibility and caring for a living plant should be high on that list, not the bottom because it has a "warranty."