When to give up on a ShrubAlison Marsden
June may seem a strange month to be talking about giving up on a shrub and digging it out but after last year’s dry summer and the cold spell in December, there are quite a few shrubs lurking in gardens that are not ever going to be healthy again. Here on the Kent/Sussex borders we can get away with choosing slightly less hardy plants than in more northerly areas and although this opens up some great possibilities, there is always the likelihood that a hard winter will damage or even kill completely a delicate specimen. And this is what happened in the 2022-23 winter. The shrubs that I have been seeing with brown crispy leaves, or no leaves at all, are primarily Hebe and Pittosporum, both evergreens originating from New Zealand and suffering in temperatures below about minus 5oC.
I always recommend not hurrying into digging out a plant too soon even if it looks dead. Plants will often shed leaves or die off above ground when under stress and then resprout the following spring when the roots take in plenty of water and temperatures rise. Some shrubs are naturally late to come into leaf – the Hibiscus pictured is one such so wait a bit longer than you think before before declaring defeat. I saw a Ceanothus too that had been badly hit by the cold this winter, the owner had cut it hard back and was on the point of digging it out when they noticed some tiny green shoots. A month later it is covered in new growth and well on the way to recovery.
But there does come a time when you have to admit defeat and cut your losses, freeing up a space to replant. And that time is early June if no leaves have yet appeared. The final test is to scape back a little of the bark from the top of a twig with your fingernail. If the stem underneath is brown then it is well and truly dead, if green, then there is sap flowing and you might wait a little longer. Even if some branches are alive, cut out all the dead wood and you will then be able to make a decision on whether there is enough of the plant left to keep it. There is absolutely no compulsion to retain any individual plant in your garden. And sometimes taking out a specimen that is badly shaped or where most of it has died off is a golden opportunity to choose something new, that develops the style of the garden or fills a gap in the calendar of colour.
June however is not the best month to add new shrubs unless you are willing and able to water regularly and throughout the summer. I would suggest using the time until autumn to decide what you want to plant so that when the planting season comes around you can be all ready with a spade.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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