Is my plant dead?
Is my plant dead? After this record breaking freeze we are getting a lot of these questions:
- Can you help me assess my landscape?
- What should I do now?
- What is the meaning of life?
We are going to write in generalizations (we trust that you are smart enough to apply these principles to your specific circumstance).
Some questions that will help you figure out, “Is my plant dead?”
- Is it an annual or a perennial?
- Annual = Dead
- Perennial = Hope
- When you bend the branch or twig does it have a dry snap or is there some give?
- Dry snap = Dead (not necessarily the whole plant, but that part).
- Bend = Hope
- Does it still hold its natural form?
- Laying down = dead. If it can no longer stand up on its own, then it almost assuredly is beyond saving.
- Back to normal = Hope
- When you scratch the stem is it brown or green?
- Brown = Dead
- Green = Hope. See picture.
BIG TAKE AWAY: There are some plants that are dead (see above) and there are some plants that are obviously alive (see above). Then there are some questions marks…wait.
Some Examples to help make the point:
Spineless Prickly Pear:
- Most of this thing is dead. The pads are mushy and have lost their internal structure. Dead. But when you examine the rooted pads (the base of the cactus) they are still firm. We consider the vast majority of this cactus as dead, but we have hope for a long term recovery.
- How to act: cut back all of the mushy pads and leave the base. Then wait and see if it comes back. There is no need to water this plant because Cacti need so little water.
- Many tall evergreen shrubs (like wax myrtles, sky pencils and yaupons) took a beating from the snow and ice because their leaves held ice which made them very heavy. The structure couldn’t hold up the extra weight. See picture.
- Now that the snow and ice have melted, you can see that it is wind burned. We expect the plant to survive.
- Here is a key take away: This plant will survive, but it will not be near as beautiful as before. The right side will not recover and will likely need to be removed. There will be many mature shrubs across the region with this problem (alive but ugly). Finding mature replacements is going to be very difficult and expensive (demand is going to be at an all time high).
Liriope and Iris
- This thing isn’t dead, but the top leaves are. Generally, in Texas, we don’t cut these back like decorative grasses. We might typically cut them to 6 inches once every few years (for Iris). This freeze has changed that. The leaves are all dead and will remain ugly. You should trim them to 6-10 inches depending on the size. This will remove the dead and allow for new growth in the spring.
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Here is a good resource for bringing your plant back in circumstances.