Desert Mountain Times
Desert Mountain Times - People, Plants and Places of Desert Southwest

Thoughts on hurried death of a Mexican Heather

By Dan Bodine


Mexican Heather - cuphea

A popular Mexican Heather, or cuphea, as seen on the Round Rock Garden Club’s website Round Rock is in the Texas hill country, near Austin. In fall 2010, I purchased one of these plants at a garden center in El Paso. Why? Had I researched the plant for El Paso? For my small lot’s soil condition? Did I do all the reasonable things to do in setting out and carrying for a plant? This is my story.

Briefly, news is, I finally gave up on a Mexican Heather back in April that we’d purchased in 2010, our first year in El Paso, and more or less let the damn thing die.

I say, “gave up.” Miffed, I actually was, that it hadn’t done hardly anything after I’d built a nice shade for it — to protect it from El Paso’s scorching sun. El Hueco Garden, Noemi and I named it. And mulched the soil around it, too. And kept it watered and fertilized good.

After the third winter — well into Spring! — it still hadn’t “taken off.” Too, the way it’s original bed had evolved, it was now a misfit. A double negative. Progress was leaving it in the lurch.

Hours and hours, sometimes even coming out for a midnight cheer rally last fall and early this spring, I’d gone over these same exact things with Heather. Talked and talked, I did.

So… In late April… I transplanted her to another spot in the garden. A new El Circulo Central Garden we’re building. To build.  No shade though.

June’s scorching sun came — pobrecita roots were in hardly a month, afterall — and it was just like taking a blowtorch to it. Kaput, it went! Heather just dried up into twigs I pulled up and spread out over the ground.

Less than a week later, we were at one of these garden centers here. Noemi, unaware to a large extent of what I do most of the time in my gardening, sure enough saw a row of one-gallon Mexican heathers. Beautiful!

“They’ve got Mexican heathers! You want to get a Mexican Heather?” she asked.

Almost choked, I did. Yes.

“No, no! I don’t want any Mexican Heather!”

Gulp. Thankfully, she didn’t ask why. But you ever morn the loss of a plant? Come on, admit it! And why not? Science now says plants have feelings. Or they can communicate.

Which means, some living thing that’d struggled against the odds of a possible bonehead owner just to stay alive, is now dead. Could that, indeed, be the story here?

Assisted Ascensión to the Great Greenery in the Sky, the cause of death was.

Thus: 1) Am I a cold, green-blooded killer?

Or 2) Did it get what it deserved? Damn lazy, good-for-nothing plant!

Or 3) in one of those lapsed moments, did I simply pull the trigger too quickly? Should’ve boned up more on soil conditions, etc. that such-and-such plants need, huh?

A little more TLC and you’d had a proud prodigy, bozo! That sort of thing.

With all that said, let me add, first:  Yes, this is a rant about stupid folks (like me, sometimes) who buy plants on whims, set ’em out who-knows-where without doing any researching; water or fertilize ’em off and on; and expect miracles in the desert.

Chances are good you’ll kill a plant! It’s that simple. (Or, too, as a friend once told me, If plants really did have rights now, you’d be in jail for life, Bodine!)

But a little slack is in order, too. Unlike foster children, say, plants don’t come with background information packets. A lot you, the new custodian, must learn on your own for Happy Times to roll is simply through exploration. Trial and error.

And my exploration with Heather — whether what I did or what I didn’t — simply failed to hit the right key to set in motion that happy melody of growth transfusions. Oh, I’d so imagined it!

Second though, yes, this is a rant about our commercial system — on the distribution and sales of plants.

Everything from universal distribution and unregulated plant sales, I get the feeling sometimes, is done solely for the lure of the sale. Profit trumps everything!

Taking on duties of a parental guardianship, with responsibilities, is the farthest thought away sometimes. In all sides. Except the plants maybe. No knowledge, no experience required for the transactions.

And after that, it’s suckers keepers, of course. It’s back to the old buyer beware system. Reasons for plants being native to certain areas and what it takes to grow them locally is your damn responsibility to know. Right?

Yes, I realize some suppliers offer limited guarantees; but, really, how many buyers really take the time to return plants to a store for a partial refund?! Huh?

It’s a numbers racket! Capitalism gone wild in the nursery business! Yack, yack, yack!

…Ok, having said all of that, I feel a little better. It’s off my chest.

Not off my mind. The guilt still lingers there. Some.

*** Did I know something of, or did I research the Mexican Heather plant?

Well…Yes and know. I want to say I first saw this plant in Alpine, years and years ago. Seems several were set as beautiful border plants somewhere near downtown there, off a hotel walkway maybe. Loved it at first sight!

And, too, when I brought it home that first day in 2010, before planting, I actually spent some time reading about it.

Remember it supposedly as easy-to-grow, an Allyson or False Heather it actually was called; sometimes dies over in winter but comes back in Spring.

Mine never did. Died in winter, that is. Mine never did much of anything, But set there!

*** Water too much? Probably yes. But I’d go longer periods, just to check, and sure enough it’d droop. So I’d resume watering. Every other day, some, in the heat; hardly any in the winters.

*** Did I actively mulch? Here’s where I could’ve improved, yes. I didn’t start a mulching program until 2012. And then it was light. Maybe an inch and a half. And rarely have I stirred it, or turned it over any.

The soil in the Las Tierras — once, I understand, years ago, occasionally was irrigated farmland — has layers of caliche, hard clay or sandy clay, and doesn’t drain well. It needs thick mulch!

One of my things to do before further work in El Hueco, too, is do a soil test, and then spread some lime or something to correct it in our yard.

But mulching is important. And El Paso even has a free mulch program at some of the waste drop-off stations. Take your bags and get all you want. That definitely will be one of the things I’ll be doing this fall!

Will I  buy another one? Another Heather? Someday?

Hee, hee.

Wouldn’t be a true gardener if I gave up forever, would I?


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