It’s the time of year when we all start thinking of our gardens and yards: what we’re going to plant, what we want to change, and what we need to fix. At the farm, that includes making plans for clearing out any dead plants and preparing the space for new plants, if we need to. It also includes trimming out the deadwood to allow space for new growth to form. So – how can you tell if your lavender plant survived?
Testing for life
- Step 1 (visual) If the plant still looks brown (no green) in the spring when your other plants are showing signs of life, there’s a chance it didn’t survive. However, be sure to check carefully, not just at the tips of the visible stalks, but down towards the base as well. It will also depend on if you pruned your lavender in the fall. If you didn’t, last year’s stems could be obscuring the new growth (and delaying budding). Prune it now! Read our blog about spring pruning for tips.
- Step 2 (cut) If you pruned in the fall and/or don’t see any green on the plant, even near the base, it’s time to go to step two. Test it by cutting a small stalk close to the base. If it snaps easily, that stalk is dead. Test several more stalks around the base of the plant before giving up hope – sometimes a plant can die out in one section, but still have life left in others.
- Step 3 (snap) If the stalk has any give or softness to it when you cut, that portion of the plant is alive. Stop cutting in that area! However, you still need to check and make sure there isn’t deadwood in other parts of the plant (without damaging it further). At this point, I put down the shears and use my fingers to gently bend stalks in other parts of the plant, making only very occasional cuts if I can’t tell. If the stems snap easily, they are dead. Test the entire plant to get a sense of what sections are dead, and which still have life. From Farmer Rick: “Remember to look at the inside of the wood you cut – if you see any green, there is life, and hope for the plant.”
As you’ve now discovered, sometimes plants have one section that dies (deadwood) while the rest is green. This is common in all perennial plants. Remember, sometimes a section simply needs a little more time to bud. If section looks dead but still has give and green inside the stems, wait a few weeks to see if any green buds begin to form. If they don’t, go back to step two and repeat.
Once you’ve determined that a section of the plant is dead, it’s best to remove it. Simply cut the deadwood out with clean shears, doing your best to avoid cutting or damaging the live portions of the plant (lavender is hardy so don’t be fearful – just mindful.)
This is true for the plant at all stages of its life cycle, but especially for younger plants. If you remove the dead section when the plant is young, there’s a good chance it will form new growth in that area that you can later round back out into a proper shape. With older plants, the missing section may never grow woody structure to replace it, but the open area will allow sunlight and air down into the interior, and you’ll be rewarded with stems and buds to fill in the hole. So while the plant may look less than perfect in the dead of winter, once it begins to bloom, it’ll fill out nicely.
If the plant didn’t survive
If the plant is entirely dead, pull it out and begin the grieving process. It’s okay to sing a sad anthem or play taps if this brings you peace. Bury the lavender plant in your compost, where it can become the fertilizer for next year’s garden – trust me, it’s what your plant would’ve wanted.
Before heading to the nursery to get a replacement plant, this is a good time to try and determine the cause of the plant’s demise (see our blog about how to pick a good spot for lavender), so you can make adjustments and be more successful with your next plant!
Remember these key tips before planting out your new lavender:
- New plants need time to establish before scorching heat or hard freezes
- Make sure the location gets plenty of sunshine
- If your soil is not well drained, you will need to amend it.
- Make sure your plants have plenty of air circulation.
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