by Mikl Brawner
As we enter June, most of our trees and shrubs have leafed out, but not all. Some have leaves only three quarters of the way up, and many broad-leafed evergreens are mostly brown. Should we cut them back or replace them? Let’s not, just yet.
This winter we had three below zero events: 20 below at the end of December, 10 below at the end of January, and 10 below at the end of February, which is very late for below zero. Some plants did die. We lost a cactus and people have reported losing hardy Rosemary, lavender and even a few plums and cherries. The soil has taken a long time to warm up. Many broad-leafed evergreens are still in shock: Boxwoods, Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia) and Euonymus vines and shrubs have a lot of dead leaves. Our big Arizona Cypress and little Lacebark Pine have many dead needles. Our Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, has looked dead. But look closely; new leaves are starting to emerge.
If you scratch the bark with a thumbnail and it’s green underneath, it’s still alive. If it’s brown, it’s probably not. If buds are soft and pliable, it’s alive. If buds crumble under pressure, bark is wrinkled and twigs snap, that wood is dead.
Give them another couple weeks before cutting, and remember that a big root system will grow back faster than a brand-new plant. And it may be supportive to give a struggling tree or shrub a dose of compost tea and/or a little organic fertilizer—a liquid form is faster-acting. And always prune back to a branch; never leave a stump.
And who knows, a little love might help too.