As a big fan of perennials, one of my springtime rituals is to check the garden for plants that are returning after winter. Late freezes such as those we had up until March of this year can cause some perennials to return later in the spring than usual. Although, your garden may be off to a slow start this year, give it a little time to reach its full stride.
As you continue to garden this spring, I urge you to take a close look at plants that maybe looking a little puny or even look dead in the garden. All hope may not be lost yet, as our growing season was a bit delayed this year. Even our schedule for annuals got pushed back this year. For instance, being a “good” gardening teacher, I put tomatoes out in all of my gardens in March. This was actually a little late, but I was waiting for temperatures to get warm enough. Well along came the late March freeze which took out the tomatoes, so I thought. In a testament to their resiliency those tomatoes actually started coming back from the root a few weeks later and now they are producing! Fortunately, I didn’t pull them out.
In another example, I recently checked in with a client to see how her newly planted butterfly garden was returning for spring. She embarrassingly said, “Things aren’t looking too great out here. I think I need help!” When I went by to check, what I found was a great success! Of the 30 or so plants we put in, we only lost 2 in the freezes and she lives in north Houston. What I found was healthy plants coming back from the roots. All that was needed was trimming of old dead branches and a good weeding. Even many of the annuals had survived!
So here’s my advice for figuring out what to do with late-returning perennials.
- Check your garden for plants with dead stems.
- Check the base of the plant for new growth. If there is the tiniest sign of green, wait and keep an eye on the plant. However, you can cut back the dead steams.
- Do a “scratch test” on several stems. To do this, take your fingernail and lightly scratch the surface of the stem. If you see green under the brown surface, leave the plant and wait for the stems to leaf out again. As stems begin to leaf out again, cut of the ones that prove to be dead from the base.
- If there is no sign of new growth at the base or on stems and the branches are completely brown or hollow, the plant is most likely dead and can be pulled up.
- If the plant holds firmly in the ground as you try to pull it out, the roots may still be living. Dead roots usually break off or come out easily. Cut back all stems and wait a bit to see if new leaves will appear.
These steps will help you avoid the mistake of throwing away living plants that need just a bit more time to begin growing again. It is a common mistake which from time-to-time I even make. Just recently I was doing late spring cleanup in the back yard when I ran across a dead-looking plumbago. I saw dead branches, figured, “It’s mid-May,” and so didn’t take the time to closely examine it. Prematurely, I just started tugging at the poor plant, and I had to really tug because the roots didn’t want to give. I’m a determined gardener and I wasn’t going to let a few roots stop me. After I yanked the whole thing out, I discovered two green shoots which I thought belonged to a neighboring plant. Drat! I’d pulled up a perfectly good plant. To fix my mistake, I quickly replanted and watered it and then hoped for the best. A few days later those little shoots had perked right up, so all is well. I’ll give it a little extra TLC this year and it should be back blooming in no time.
On the Grow is a garden coaching service launched by Janice Brown to teach people how to be successful gardeners in the sometimes difficult, Gulf Coast climate. On the Grow provides garden education for the home gardener, children in outdoor classrooms, neighbors in community gardens, and employees in workplace gardens. Whether you want a new idea for a girls’ night out, a new way to engage children in nature, or want to implement a fresh wellness program in your company, On the Grow is here for you. Your coach will take you step by step teaching you the basics, while presenting you with a fresh perspective by helping you experience the healing benefits of gardening. Our mission at On the Grow is to help everyone experience the joy of a garden and build a greater connection to Mother Earth. Connect with One The Grow on Facebook and Twitter!