Friday, September 5, 2014

Sometimes they just die...

You can probably tell by the title this isn't going to be a pretty post, but if you garden you've no doubt lost plants and can sympathize. Here's my Brachyglottis greyi in better days (June)...

And here's how it looked last week right before I cut it back.

What happened? I wish I knew. One day it was looking great, the next it wasn't. Not enough water? There's one elsewhere in the garden that gets even less and it's fine. Too much water? No, I'm not that generous. I planned to leave it for a few weeks (after cutting it back) and see if it showed any signs of life, but that might just take more patience than I've got.

How about this one, Microcachrys tetragona, a lovely shade of gold don't you think?

Trouble is this is what it's supposed to look like (photo taken at a nursery display garden).

Thank goodness one of my pair looks okay.

No this one isn't dead, it's supposed to look that way. Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling', see that hint of green at the center? Proof it's alive. Unlike the one planted about 5ft way. I touched it and the thing disintegrated. Definitely dead.

This guy is a Piptanthus nepalensis var. tomentosus, purchased last fall it spent winter in the holding tank (and the coldest days in the basement), I think this image was taken in late October-ish.

I planted it out this spring. Here it is now...

The litter all around the crispy plant are dried up colocasia blooms. I don't think the piptanthus is going to make it.

Most of these deaths can probably be blamed on the heat and lack of water. I've been tossing around weather statistics on Facebook, and don't want to bore anyone who's read along there, but we did just experience the hottest August on record here in Portland, and only received .01" of rain. Try as you might to keep up with the hand watering something is probably going to be missed. Or in my case several things.

This sad state of affairs (below, a saxifraga) can be blamed on removing the privet late last winter. It missed the shade and I was too late to realize. Good thing the oxalis can step up to fill the void! (see it growing alongside the rock and snuggling up to the agave?

Here's what happy Saxifraga urbium ‘Aureopunctata' looks like...

Even the sempervivium are shutting down. I'm sure they'll be fine once the rains return later this fall.

Hopefully this little agave pup will snap out of it too.

My neighbor's hydrangea may not.

This is concerning as well. The lower, insides, of my Clematis tibetana var. vernayi are turning crispy.

And the Syneilesis aconitifolia looks ready to call it a day. So droopy and no amount of water perks them up. I've never seen my garden so dry. All around town trees are losing their leaves, and contrary to what I've heard a few people say it's not because it's fall! (which it's not, by the way) It's the heat and lack of water, those things are stressed!

The final horror that I'll share with you is this, my Sedum 'Autumn Joy' the entire plant looks like this, all three of them in fact. This is a little more concerning, like perhaps the amount of shade it's in now has caught up with it and it's got some sort of crud. Like I've said before gardening isn't for wimps, it's tough business!

All material © 2009-2014 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

51 comments:

  1. I know you said it's not because it's fall, but in my experience the heat and lack of water in summer can cause plants to start shutting down early. That has happened in my garden when I've neglected to water something, like my Forest Pansy redbud. A neighbor has a maple tree that is already gloriously colorful, which happens every year in late summer. Some of your plants might bounce back in the late winter/early spring.

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    1. That's exactly what I meant Alison (and I've attempted to clarify the point in the post) that it's the heat and lack of water. I've heard a couple of people say things like "the leaves are turning early this year, fall is here" as though the crispy leaves are the same as the (usually bright and colorful) fall leaves which will come later, when the nights are longer and cooler.

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  2. Drought is tough, especially when you're used to regular rainfall. High temps can just suck the life out of plants too, and no amount of water will help. Ask my ex-gunnera, who couldn't survive our summer even submerged in water and in shade for most of the day. BTW, my sempervivum always look like that in the summer.

    Hoping that this weather is just a blip for you, and that it doesn't become more normal. If it does, well, it just means that you get to try a whole new range of plants. :)

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    1. This isn't hugely abnormal for us, the "volume" just got turned up this year. Summers are dry, winters are wet, it's a challenge to keep all the plants happy with the extremes. I guess it's our warm nights that really pushed up the averages. We didn't have a real heat wave and didn't even hit 100! (99 a couple of times I think). Your point about high temps sucking the life is probably extra valid when they don't get the nights to "recover" (sounds like I'm anthropomorphizing doesn't it?)

      Sorry about your gunnera, they can be tricky plants. Mine looks like hell this year, I think it's too much shade. I was over at John Kuzma's the other day and that one is even more magical than during the Fling.

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  3. sandy lawrenceSeptember 05, 2014

    Commiserating with you in drought-ridden Central Texas. Before I noticed them, wooly aphids got my Sedum 'Autumn Joy'. English lavender was a lovely mound of solid blooms one day and the next afternoon looked as if it had been blow-torched. I didn't even cut it back, just jerked the whole plant out in a fit of heat & humidity gardening low point depression.

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    1. I should have added a disclaimer at the bottom of the post. Something like "my pain is NOTHING compared to what gardeners faced with real drought are going through"...you guys have got it bad and I can't imagine gardening in such conditions. You guys are tough.

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  4. Oh dear, this isn't a very happy post :(

    Drought and heat is something that I have no experience living here in Scotland.

    It is different down in the south east of the United Kingdom though and they often experience droughts. One guy on a forum I visit says that his plants start to wilt at first and then they just stop growing - is this similar to what you say about the plants going to sleep?

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    1. I suppose it is, they just shut down as a survival mechanism. Or some just die!

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  5. Swear, just yesterday I was wondering how your clump of syneilesis was doing in this hot summer. I've had phlomis and lavendar do that die-back thing this summer too. I usually notice it late afternoon and pray that the next morning all is normal, and in my experience nothing can stop it or revive the plant. If that wilt is there in the morning, I know it's all over. That brachy was so gorgeous! I feel your pain...

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    1. Well as luck would have it I've been given a new plant that I think will be happy in the brachy's spot, thank you for helping to confirm that it's done.

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  6. What a drag, I hate it when that happens. I usually have that kind of die off over the winters. Long hot summers with no water are really hard on things too. We had a summer like that a few years ago and there were quite a few mature white pine trees in the area that just died. Too much stress.

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    1. Yikes, removing a dead mature pine sounds expensive.

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  7. Sometimes plants die inexplicably, and sometimes it's due to excessive heat or drought (or rain). It's all a big mystery, but I guess we gardeners enjoy a challenge, eh? Hoping you get a break from the heat and dryness soon, although I don't want to wish autumn on you too early. ;-) Was it the hottest July on record, by any chance? I'd have believed it during the Fling.

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    1. A challenge indeed! And thank you for not wishing an early autumn on me. I don't recall seeing anything about July being a record breaker, but 2014 goes down as our 3rd hottest summer so the July temps definitely helped contribute to that.

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  8. Interesting about your Saxifrage. My older S. dentata x geum died out this summer, too, but a bunch of little S. x urbinium 'Aureopunctata' starts from the clump I got from you are doing beautifully in the exact same spot under the Eucalyptus. And I barely watered any of them, due to the Euc. If it's any consolation, my Syneilesis clump looks just as droopy as yours. It's been hard keeping even the drought-tolerant plants happy this summer. But I still love that sun!!

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    1. I'm glad your saxifrage starts are doing well, and you know I am in agreement, the sun is always welcome.

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  9. My large Grevillea australis just turned it's toes up for no apparent reason :( Some of the Japanese maples are all dried up too and I have been watering constantly all summer to keep the grass green.

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    1. Oh no! I bought a Grevillea australis last fall and planted it out this spring. It's gotten HUGE, I can't imagine loosing it. I'm sorry...

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  10. Agreed. I kill as much as I grow some years. :-)

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    1. Wow, that's quite the accomplishment!

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  11. I do feel your pain and the poor plants. Your climate is rough with little rain in the summer. And hand watering doesn't always work because some plants don't like city water with its chemicals. We found that here during our 7 year drought. This summer was cooler than last and quite wet. So we are back to looking more sub tropical. I know a lot of people up around Austin have started collecting rain water on a large scale. I am still trying to find a place for some rain barrels.

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    1. I've read a few reports about how water that falls from the sky is so much better for the plants than that which comes from the facet. Plus it falls everywhere, something I'm not so good at. Glad you're getting some cooler temps and rain.

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  12. There's little I can add, except to say that at least your sempervivums and that stressed agave pup will come back in the fall.

    I think your 'Autumn Joy' has some ailment that is not related to heat or lack of water. I find Hylotelephium telephium to be a very challenging plant; in my garden, it had aphids in the spring and crappy foliage in the summer (I think it goes summer-dormant in its native habitat) and only looked good for a while in the fall. I got rid of all of them :-).

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    1. Ye semps are tough, I'm not worried about them, just hate how sad they look. That little agave pup isn't hardy, so it will be pulled out of the ground just about the time it starts to revive, what a life huh?

      I do agree about the sedum, and think it's time for them to go away...

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  13. Sorry about your losses! On the bright side, dead plants mean that we get to do more shopping. We've had a hot August but not as hot as yours and we've had at least three nice rainfalls that gave us an inch or so of precipitation each. I bet your agaves and cacti are in hog heaven!

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    1. Even the agaves would like a little more water, but they are certainly enjoying the heat.

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  14. Wow, you really do have quite a number of unhappy plants. It is unusual for Portland to get so little rain, isn't it?

    Here's hoping the rains return and things turn around for your garden!

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    1. It's not terribly unusual, the summer months are usually dry, although it does seem like there's typically one or two rainfalls in August, just to keep things interesting (so I don't get complacent and leave something outside that I shouldn't, like the lounge cushion). This year those rains just seemed to skirt all around my part of Portland!

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  15. So surprised about the Brachyglottis when that's supposed to be drought tolerant? I suppose even that has its limits. So annoying when you lose plants but that's just the way it is. Some plants die for no apparent reason at all, and some are simply just short lived.

    Didn't realise that you guys had a relatively hot and definitely dry August. I thought the temps there last July was very warm, I can imagine just how August must have felt. On the last day of the fling when we had that heavy downpour was that the last heavy rain you guys had up to now?

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    1. I also thought it was supposed to be drought tolerant...

      The official July rainfall total was 1.05" with .63" falling on the 23rd, which was the greatest 24-hr total of the month.

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  16. To add to the comment about sedum, and aphids. When plants are stressed, like people, they seem to be more prone to bugs and mildew and other problems. I'd take a magnifying glass to the droopy leaves and see if you can find any bugs. A teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water might fix the mildew sprayed on the leaves. When I have a dry summer, all my day lilies want to get thrips and I get out the pyrethrin. Of course sometimes I decide the plant isn't worth the molly coddling and try to get something tougher. This leads to more shopping opportunities.

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    1. Thanks for sedum advice, and I think I'm in the not worth it camp. Time to figure out something that will be happy there.

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  17. Such a bummer about that lovely Brachyglottis! Curious about its replacement. I don't think I have lost anything this summer - I've been a watering slave! But your post makes me go out and throw water on my new Astelia.

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    1. Good for you! (not losing anything) So which astelia did you buy?

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    2. A. nivicola 'Red Gem.' I'm not a risk-taker, I'll always get the hardiest! And looks so good at the feet of the pineapple guava.

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  18. Most of the things you show here remind me of our Midwestern gardens during the drought of 2012. The same sorts of things happened. We didn't have rain from the end of May until late July. Added to that were nearly constant highs in the 90s and 100s. The heat would have been OK for the plants, but they didn't have any water to deal with it. Worst drought I've ever experienced. I'm so sorry you guys are experiencing it this year. I'm praying for rain for the west coast. I do hope the autumn rains will be generous for you.

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    1. Thank you PP, I have every confidence the rain will return, and it's quantity will be more than enough. I'm not complaining about our situation, we've got it so much better than other parts of the west!

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  19. It´s funny but...your sempervivums now look like the ones I have in Spain...I knew they were too thirsty but this confirms it. I´m sorry you are having such a dry summer...Good thing that you have so many dry loving plants like agaves and opuntias.

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    1. Indeed, I can't imagine if my containers were full of thirsty things, they would all be crispy!

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  20. It's like a punch to the stomach, isn't it? The most logical suspects are those you cited but some losses remain a mystery, even after a post-mortem. Years ago, in one week, an Arbutus unedo at my old house went from seemingly healthy to dead. There were no obvious weather or water issues but, after some research, I found that the tree is susceptible to "sudden oak death," which is caused by microscopic soil pathogens that, most probably, came in with other plants through infected nursery sources. Right now, I'm watching a Leucadendron ('Rising Sun'), which went into decline 4 weeks ago - root rot is cited as one of the few things that can kills them but the soil isn't wet and it's surrounded by other healthy low-water plants, which all seem fine...What's a mother to do?

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    1. Oh that's horrible, trees are so much worse to deal with when something goes wrong. And a leucadendron, that's too bad, was it newly planted?

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    2. The Leucadendron was planted in April after I drove myself crazy with the selection process. I checked it this evening - it's dead. I couldn't bring myself to dig it up tonight but I will sometime this week and try to figure out what happened. I lost quite a few plants this summer but this is the 1st one to really throw me - probably because I thought it should have been able to handle the stresses of the current climate. Damn!

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  21. Oh man, that stinks! I am going to run out and look at my stuff again. I haven't been very good about watering this summer, which might have been a terrible mistake considering how dry it's been....

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  22. Your Brachyglottis was so perfect. I got such a gorgeous photo of it. That couldn't have jinxed it, could it?

    Well, at least you know you are not alone. Losses everywhere this hot summer. I'm still mourning for my 'Bello Grigio'. A local botanist swears it is important to get plants out of whatever the grower grows them in, because the stuff is usually mostly sawdust, which will rot after about six months and kill the plant off. I'm wondering if he's right...what was left of Bello Grigio's root system, which I did not clean off before planting, was indeed in a mass of sawdust.

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    1. Na, I think you're off the hook.

      Sawdust, really? My biggest complaint is agaves that come growing in heavy (soggy) potting soil.

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  23. Sad to hear, but add to the other reasons, microclimate or just a weak individual plant explain it, too. So many things like that I've seen...sure beats seeing mold growing around a plant here, then you know the cause...humans disconnected to their plants and who love water too much.

    Sounds like you now have the Portland Death Star...your membership in the "lechuguilla and ocotillo of the month club" is being processed! Interesting on your summer's weather statistics, including your warm nights.

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    1. I can't wait to start receiving my monthly membership mailings!

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  24. It is crispy! I don't consider it fall until these 90 degree days are done. I've watered far more than I would have liked in order to keep certain plants alive. It's been a lot of work. I'm ready for cooler days and maybe..dare I say, rainfall.

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    1. The problem with wishing for rainfall in these parts is that it doesn't just show up in a nice casual "just getting to know you again" way. It shows up with 12 pieces of luggage and moves in without asking which one is the guest room.

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  25. My semps looked like that in summer too, and haven't really recovered after all the water we've had, strangely enough. I will remember this post the next time I lose a plant, to make myself feel better (that sounds really bad, but you know what I mean I hope). Sometimes there is just nothing you can do.

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