It’s (Probably) Not Dead Yet!

This is the time of year when plant life is bursting forth everywhere you look – crabapples are blooming, tulips are on full display, and it seems like everything is turning green. With so much happening, it’s easy to assume that any plants that are not yet showing signs of life are dead, having succumbed to our harsh dry winter weather.

These two Crimson Spire Oaks are growing 12 feet apart. One is in full bloom (right) while the other appears to be dead by comparison (left), but is actually just a little behind it’s partner. On close inspection, full buds can be seen (inset).

Sadly, this means it is also the time of year when we here at the nursery are overwhelmed with requests to honor warranties on plants that aren’t dead! Many plants are well-known for being late to wake up – hydrangeas, perennial hibiscus, butterfly bush, weigela, ornamental grasses, oaks, and the list goes on. While these plants are known late risers, this year has been notable for just how many of these plants are taking their time to awaken.

This Manzanita was returned due to some brown leaves, but is perfectly healthy. By removing it from the ground and seeking a replacement instead of letting it produce its new spring growth, this customer has moved back to square one, losing any growth this plant put on in the last season and starting over.

Other plants, most notably broadleaf evergreens like manzanita and euonymus, may have suffered some leaf scorch during the winter, but will produce a new flush of growth that will overtake the browned leaves if given a chance. This is simply something that should be expected in our high plains environment, where winters can be dry, windy, sunny, and warm, all factors that contribute to evergreens suffering some aesthetic burn that often does not compromise the health of the plant.

Other plants may have been nipped in one of our late frosts, which can stunt the first push of growth without harming the overall health of the plant. Redbuds are the most notorious offenders in this category, since their iconic blooms are their first sign of life each spring. One poorly timed frost can kill the flowers, but the tree will still leaf out just fine.

Here are some tips to help you avoid making this mistake:

This Climbing Hydrangea was returned because it appears to be dead. However, by scraping the bark with my thumbnail, I reveal the healthy green cambium.
  • For woody plants, check to see if the branches are still alive. If the twigs are still flexible, the plant is most likely still alive. You can also dig into the bark with your thumbnail to expose the inner layer (cambium). If it is still green, then you’ve got life! Just give it more time to wake up.
  • Look closely for signs of buds swelling. From a distance, many plants can appear to be dead, but upon closer inspection they may have leaf or flower buds that are ready to burst, and again, a little more time may be all they need.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you have two of the same plant, and one is leafing out while the other is not. Two identical plants can live right next to one another but operate on different schedules, but it doesn’t necessarily mean one is dead.
  • Call us to see if a plant you are concerned about is known to be a late riser. If it is, a few more weeks can make a world of difference.
  • If you’re concerned about your one year warranty expiring, call us. We gladly extend warranties to give plants enough time to show us whether they’re truly dead or not. We would much rather extend a warranty than replace one perfectly healthy plant with another.

It is important to give these plants every benefit of the doubt before yanking them out of the ground to be replaced. If you’re too quick to pull the trigger, you’ll never get a well-established mature plant, and really, that should be the goal of planting anything. Plus, you’ll be doing a lot of extra work for no reason, and who wants to do extra unnecessary work?

We can be reached any time we are open at 970-482-1984 or 866-384-7516

Originally published on May 8th, 2019.