Hope springs eternal in the garden. Your shrub or tree should have put out leaves a month ago, yet its stems remain bare. Did it just forget spring is almost over? Did it decide to sleep in? Do plants sometimes skip a year? Nope, nope, and nope. Sorry, but it’s time to cut your losses.
Our first really cold winter in a long time took its toll on many plants. My pampas grass croaked. That’s OK — I hated it. That avocado tree Brian grew from a seed bit the dust too. I don’t care. It was too tall to store in the garage and he refused to take it to his dorm room at Auburn. Would have classed up the joint.
Broadleaf evergreens like gardenia, loropetalum, and creeping fig showed the first obvious damage — brown, toasty foliage. But later, Grumpy noticed numerous deciduous plants that should be leafing out in spring hadn’t.
For example, many French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), like the one above owned by faithful reader Ellen Grooms, either was a total mass of naked brown stems or looked dead at the top with only green shoots coming up from the bottom. Grumpy heard similar complaints about crepe myrtles and Japanese maples (especially from peeps in the Upper South and parts north), as well as pomegranate and fig trees.
The Sorry Truth
It is now the end of May. That may be the cusp of spring in Minnesota as folks gather to drink Leinenkugels and watch the ice break on Lake Superior, but in the South it’s almost summer.
Branches leaf out in spring. If they do not leaf out in spring, they are dead. No branch skips a year in leafing out — no matter what you’ve heard from Kathy Lee and Hoda.
So get out the loppers and pruners this weekend and cut off the dead branches. Leave alone any growth coming up from the bottom of a hydrangea — because if your hydrangea happens to be a reblooming type, like ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘Penny Mac,’ ‘All Summer Beauty,’ ‘Dear Delores,’ or ‘Forever & Ever,’ it will still bloom this year. If not, you’ll have to wait until next year for blooms.
As for crepe myrtle, pomegranate, and fig, cut off all dead branches. If a trunk is dead, cut it to the ground. Luckily, these plants all flower and/or fruit on new growth, so unless they’re totally dead, your world won’t come to an end. Cut off the dead from Japanese maples too.
They’ll all grow back quickly to regain their former glory — just in time for next winter’s killing freeze.