Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tetrapanax heart-break…

It’s time to admit there is no life in the growing tips of my Tetrapanax. How could they do this to me? Last winter brought multiple cold spells, the first one came on suddenly with no warning, and the last one was late, potentially after they had started to grow. But these were all established plants! The one in the front garden isn’t a complete loss as it is resprouting from the roots. Still I had hoped this year was the year of height (something in the front garden with height please!). These foot-and-a-smidge tall trunks with huge leaves bursting from the top would have been an incredible sight. Maybe those little guys will grow fast!?

My most established/oldest plant is giving me a little renewed hope with these small nubbins along the trunk. Last year there were no leaves at all along the trunk, everything came from the growing tip. Maybe since that end seems to be crunchy and lifeless it is going to sprout along the trunk instead? Like Mother Nature pinched back my tall Tetrapanax? I have hope. I’ve been keeping an eye on the ground around this plant looking for babies, after all Tetrapanax have a thuggish reputation to uphold. Last year there were a couple but something ate the sprouts before they could amount to anything. I caught this one early and protected it from the leaf munchers. It’s looking good! Not the ideal location right up against a Euphorbia but I’ll take what I can get. I spotted this next one too late. Leaves gone…but I put my handy dandy plastic deli container protection device around it and hoped for the best. It’s responding with a little green! There is hope. I’ve spotted (and dispatched) a few cutworms in this area; I believe these are the evil culprits responsible for my lack of a Tetrapanax forest. (photo from Clemson University Extension via the University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program)

And lest you think I have any knowledge about critters in the garden let me show you how I know they were cutworms: One birthday I received Mac’s laminated Field Guide to Good Bugs and Bad Bugs of the Pacific Northwest from the husband. It hangs on a nail in the garage for quick “to kill or not to kill” reference. Bad guys… Good guys… After waiting and waiting with no signs of life I did break down and buy a replacement Tetrapanax weekend before last. After I had smugly passed up several cheaper ones earlier in the season not realizing my plants were failing, it’s now planted in the large stock tank with the emerging babies and trunk with nubbins. The last of my original Tetrapanax trio is in a very protected area with Bamboo all around and overhead, as well as a Laurel and Fir canopy. I was in denial for quite awhile looking at the top and thinking it was showing potential. Then I touched it and it fell off in my hand. So much for that. However now I see there is at least on leaf sprouting along the trunk. So my question for you folks with much more Tetrapanax experience is…do I cut the trunks back close to where the last leaf emerges? And does this mean it is going to branch now and no more growth will come from the end? Please tell.


  1. Aw, Loree, too bad about your Tetrapanax forest loss! If it helps, the T. forest up the street from me is only just beginning to show life this week. I'm no expert on Tetrapanax, but when the tips of my fig die back from cold each winter, I see that they eventually sprout below the die-back area, so I wait a good while till it's very clear what's dead and what's still alive, before cutting the dead part back.

    Funny you should post about the good-bug, bad-bug sheet: I saw one for the first time just yesterday at the Multnomah Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden as we tried to ID a bug. Seems like a great quick reference!

  2. I've had my Tetra since 06' always dies back. Comes back with renewed vigor every year. With several new clumps. I've even dug one up and moved it to a sunnier warmer area. Which seems to suit it more. Mine seem to get more height each year... don't give up on it!
    I like that bug chart...

  3. You are fortunate. Still no signs of life on or around mine...and after all the warnings from Dan Hinkley and others that it would take over the world if given half a chance.

  4. Happy for you that your Tetra has some growth and signs of life!

    I guess I've been lucky with my Tetra--until last Fall. My plant had grown to about 7 ft and was producing all kinds of babies. (Although I'd given many of these babies away, I managed to keep in my greenhouse.)

    But now each day I check my lifeless looking Tetra stalk and see no signs of life. Nothing, nada, zip, zero. I'll wait this out and hope some life seeps back into it.

  5. Wow, I didn't know there was a place it didn't take over. This is a dangerous plant for us in the south. I don't ever get to close for fear it might invade my private space.

  6. Hey Loree - You are not the only one (like tht is any comfort)....
    mine was at 9 feet tall with small leaves up and down the stalk until last month and then - BLAMO - dead, dead, dead. The next week there were two volunteers 7 feet from the original the last three weeks they have grown to 2 feet....CRAZY! Hee's hoping they stick around....

    Love love the bad bug list.....

  7. Hi Loree, do cut them back just above where the top most leaves are emerging. It will still gain precious height from the side shoot. Sometimes they become multi branch too but any enlarging buds much lower down tend to dry off once one or two upper buds starts to romp off.

    Give the others a bit more time, sometimes the pups don't turn up till late June :)

  8. Sorry to hear about your "something-tall-in front" dreams and your Tetrapanax failing you. I'll keep my fingers crossed for your mid-trunk buds to flourish.

  9. MulchMaid, thank you for the advice...and yes it really is a great quick reference. So far I've easily found almost every critter I've ran across. Thankfully there's been more good than bad.

    linda, really? Every year? Then guess I've been lucky in beating the odds until now.

    ricki, exactly!! False expectations.

    Van, well I guess it's good to know I'm not alone (tall T struck down). Although I certainly hope yours starts to push out leaves soon!

    compost, and that is exactly what I thought would be the case here. Guess not.

    Digs, wow. It's such an odd year all around the garden eh? I haven't even started to take my agaves out from under cover...and there were years when they were all out by now!

    Mark and Gaz, thank you! I was just admiring the new Tetrapanax you added to your garden. Such big leaves already!

    Bom, thank you!

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  11. That's a very handy list to have!

  12. AnonymousJuly 25, 2022

    How far from the mother plant do they spread? I have dug down to hard pan to dig up roots and it still went below that. I do kill off new growth outside the area of the original.

  13. Seems like my 14 footer got killed off by the 3 freezes we had this winter. Should I let a runner grow or just buy a new one? Had that thing for 5 years'. It was huge! I'll miss it


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