Every year about this time we do battle. The Oleanders and me.
We've done it going on seven years. I snip, saw, stomp and kick. The Oleanders twist and tangle, poke and cut. Every year, I knock 'em down. Every year they come back, bigger and stronger than ever. They're relentless.
I've learned a few things over the years. Early on all I had were a pair of just snips and a small tree saw. Now I bring loppers and a chainsaw. Still it is a battle.
But, this year was different. I came with a shovel and ax. This year I came to take the Oleanders out -- all the way out.
There are a lot of Oleanders around. Though not native to southern California, Oleanders have been described as iconic to southern California landscape. They grow quite dense and make great screens. In California, Oleanders grow in an estimated 20% of home gardens. And the folks at Caltrans love 'em. They maintain Oleanders in more than 2,100 miles of freeway medians.
So, with such great references, what's not to like?
For openers, the entire Oleander plant is poisonous, from the sap, to the bark, right down to the leaves. The Wikipedia entry says, "Oleander is one of the most poisonous plants in the world and contains numerous toxic compounds, many of which can be deadly to people, especially young children."
Then there is Oleander leaf scorch, an incurable disease that has been claiming Oleanders for years. The disease is so widespread and unstoppable that some estimate it will kill 90% of Oleanders in the next few years.
Yellow and brown edges on Oleander leaves are a sign of leaf scorch. Oleanders with leaf scorch will not improve. They will wither over the next few years then die.
If you've got Oleanders with leaf scorch, the uniform advice is to take them out.
So, four Saturdays ago, there I was standing in front of the Oleanders. Ax, loppers, chainsaw all ready to go. I really didn't know what it would take to get these things out. But I was ready.
Each Oleander was a fight. After cutting away the branches and doing some digging, I was surprised at how big the stumps were. Then I had to dig around and under each stump to cut out the roots. One a weekend was my limit.
Last Saturday I finished. Four weekends. Four Oleanders gone. Victory.
You know, it's a very satisfying feeling -- to look out and see mounds of dirt and stumps where diseased and poisonous Oleanders used to be.
I won't miss the Oleanders. Not even a little.