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Are my plants dying?!?!?

January 2, 2009

I seem to have gotten a rash of these panicked questions in the last few weeks. I don’t know if it’s the plunge into cold weather, or if people took some time off work for the holidays and actually slowed down enough to look at their yards, or what. Regardless, I can understand a little bit of confusion about how a plant should look this time of year. Here are a few guidelines to start with:

  • Deciduous trees and shrubs- Did all the leaves fall off? Yes? Good. It’s now dormant, which is how it survives the winter months.
  • Evergreen trees and shrubs- Did all the leaves fall off? Yes? Ooh, that’s bad. Seriously though, a healthy evergreen will hold its leaves or needles through the winter months. Depending on the plant, the color may look a little different- a slightly bronze cast to the needles is pretty common for a lot of species, from juniper to cryptomeria to boxwood. If you see a few branches with leaves drying out and dropping, don’t panic- especially if it was planted fairly recently. No matter how careful we try to be, your plant may get bumped around in the journey from the nursery to your house. Just let it ride until spring, and you should see a good flush of new growth.
  • Perennials- These are herbaceous plants that die back to the ground in winter. If it looks like they disappeared, they’re probably doing what they’re supposed to. Some, like hostas, will wither and leave no trace until spring. Others, like sedum or rudbeckia, will leave great-looking, sculptural stalks and seed heads that will stand through most of the winter. If you feel they look “messy” you can cut them back, but I leave mine till early spring.

Obviously if you’re still concerned about a plant I put in for you, let me know and I’ll take a look next time I’m in your part of town. It all comes back to my number one rule of gardening, though: DON’T PANIC. Often if you let nature work it out on her own, everything will be ok.

Oh, and Happy New Year! Thanks for keeping up with my writings and ramblings.

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