The War on the Patio

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

The patio of our apartment is a war zone. These are the chronicles of the battle between nature and myself as I desperately try to keep plants alive.

I am a plant mom. I shouldn't even call myself that, to be honest. I'm a plant murderer. Not on purpose, mind you. I'm the mom friend - I love to take care of friends, animals, and small children. And I'm good at it, too! But plants? My green thumb doesn't exist.

I had succulents and cacti in college. They would do just fine, but I always had to give them away to friends at the end of the school year because I couldn't bring them on the plane home to CA. I figured I was pretty good with plants, at least within the time frame of two semesters, so after I graduated I wanted to get some at home.

I started with three adorable succulents, who I (of course) named and kept in my bathroom window. I followed the instructions they came with, watering them every couple of weeks and letting the soil dry out in between. Because they were in my bathroom, they heard me sing in the shower and listen to the Cleopatra album by The Lumineers countless times in my adjoining room. They were loved.

But several months later, they started to look funny. For one, they were growing tall instead of wide, which meant they weren't getting enough light. I opened the frosted window every day to let direct sunlight in. But then they started to look funny - their little leaves were falling off, some completely dried up and some perfectly healthy.

Ali and I moved in together, and I moved them to our patio. The Patio. They rioted. One dramatically turned completely white overnight and died. The other two took longer, and I tried to save them by taking off some healthy leaves and propagating them, but only one of the leaves grew roots before the succulents themselves kicked the bucket. Eventually, even those baby roots withered and died - despite tons of research on the best way to propagate them.

Okay, maybe succulents aren't my thing. I went to a plant store nearby with Ali, and I told an employee that I am bad with plants so I needed the easiest thing possible. She offered me succulents, and I told her my sad story. We ended up getting some already-blooming chrysanthemums, and a bunch of snapdragons that were about to flower. Out of the six snapdragon plants, I think we got maybe 6-8 individual blossoms total over the last few months. The rest of them stayed tightly in bud form, until they dried out (despite watering exactly the amount that was recommended!).

The chrysanthemums and flowerless snapdragons were doing pretty well, until the aphid infestation arrived. I went out to the patio to water them, and half our snapdragons and the chrysanthemums were absolutely covered in aphids. Aphids became enemy number one. I researched easy, organic ways to get rid of them, but ended up trashing them because the infestation was so bad. The surviving plants got a wipe-down with dish soap and water, which is supposed to be slippery enough that the aphids can't hold on to the leaves or stems. It worked! Only a couple of aphids appeared now and then, primarily when the snapdragons gathered up the courage to give us a flower or two. Our snapdragons are coming to the end of their season now, so they're slowly dying despite my best attempts to keep them going.

One day, I opened the blinds to find potting soil all over the patio, little ditches in all the snapdragon pots, and a flowerpot completely upturned. No matter how many times I cleaned up, it would happen again and again. Then, I saw it happen. A little skinny squirrel meandered up to one of the snapdragon pots with a nut. He dug and dug like it was a race to get all the dirt out of the pot. He left his nut without burying it, and walked away. Moments later, he returned for his nut and left.

This sad excuse for a squirrel was now my enemy! I looked up ways to repel squirrels without actually hurting them or the plants. The solution? Chili powder and red pepper flakes. Apparently squirrels can't stand the spiciness on their nose or paws, so they'll leave plants alone with those ingredients sprinkled on top of the dirt. When he returned to our patio, he couldn't even get close to the pots before he gave up. He still comes around, but he leaves the plants alone.

Until today.

The enemy has returned...

I went to look at our sorry little garden this morning, and dirt was all over the patio again. Not as much, but it was there. The places in the pots where I hadn't put as much of the spices had been

completely dug out. It had been raining recently, so I wonder if the rain muted the spiciness. Either way, the enemy is stronger than ever!

I think I'm done with plants for now. I'll care for the ones we have until they die, and I'll probably get more (already flowering) ones in the spring, but The War On The Patio is over. I surrender.

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