It seems that as we move into September and the start of autumn the weather is following a much more typical pattern so that plants as well as people know exactly where they are in the year! With the late spring frost and snow – remember that? – and two months of soaring temperatures here in Kent with no rain garden plants have suffered and quite a few are not looking good. In these circumstances I am often asked if a particular specimen is dead, or past recovery, and should be removed and replaced.
My answer is always the same “Not necessarily”, especially if we are talking about a woody shrub. Trees and shrubs are long lived and basically are ‘in it for the long haul’, meaning that there is no necessity for them to flower, fruit or put on a spectacular display every year. A population remains stable if each plant over its lifetime produces one seedling that reaches maturity. Thus you are likely to see buds drop off without opening, a shorter flowering period and leaves yellowing and falling early. Even evergreens will shed some leaves. All of this is a survival technique for the plant, saving energy and reducing the risk of dehydration in a hot, dry summer. Think of it as an early autumn not the death of the plant. If conditions improve later in the summer, new leaves may appear but more often the plant sits it out until next spring when normal growth is resumed. So my advice is always to give your woody plants more time and wait until the spring before deciding that there is no hope. Even then some shrubs respond well to severe pruning and may regenerate from the base as long as the roots have surviv
Herbaceous perennials are more vulnerable to drought and you will certainly have seen plants this summer where all the top growth has turned brown and crispy. Clearly these stems are dead and will not recover. However once again the plant may have hidden resources in the form of a strong root system. Perennials send up new stems from the crown each spring so as long as the roots do not completely dry out then there is a good chance that these plants too will reappear next year.
Finally, water – rain or hose – and a thick mulch on your borders now may avert the need to replace casualties next year.
Happy Gardening from Alison