Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dormant or Dead?

Here's a little game I like to call Dormant or Dead. Won't you play along? When you grow only vegetables, you don't get to play this game. But when you foolishly boldly add three new flower beds during an epic drought, you get the joy of determining whether your plant will return in spring or if it's gone to the great compost bin in the sky.

First contender: the chile pequin, shown above. The friend who gave me this one had several and told me that the plants she treated worst grew the best. This one she neglected, and it looked fabulous when she gave it to me. It even produced a few chiles before realizing it had been moved into the equivalent of a plant's lap of luxury: Hill Country garden soil from the Natural Gardener.
It has since lost all its leaves.

Verdict: Dead (?)

Up next: Forsythia sage

I am a little more confident that this one will come back. I haven't grown this particular sage before, but I know that in general sages will come back.
This growth at the base gives me even more hope. Of course, I then went and moved it this weekend, perhaps thwarting its return to brilliance.

Verdict: DormantNext up: blue porterweed, aka rat's tail
I bought this plant on sale at the end of the season. It was in bloom, with long thin blue flowers that looked, well, like rat tails. After my husband's long ago brush with the namesake and my more recent one, I'm not sad to see this one go. Too many memories of the tail brushing past my head.

Verdict: Dead (it may actually be dormant but won't be for long. I'm pulling it out and replacing with a plant that will offer more pleasant flashbacks.)

Mexican mint marigold: I'm not sure about this one. I actually have two. One looks more pathetic than the other.
I'm guessing with "Mexican" in the name I might should have covered it when we had those freezes, but that would have violated my tough love gardening credo. (Okay, and it would have required me to get outside in the cold. Hey, if tough love works for the Ogdens--and those people are professionals--it works for me.)

Verdict: Dormant (I think I see some green on some of the stems when I pruned it. Time will tell. I did move both of them this weekend so they might have a little more of a struggle.)Okay, yes, I realize this isn't a plant, but when I saw it I thought this worm totally fit the game. I mean other than a disgusting globule, what could it be other than a dormant worm? It had twisted itself into an impossible knot. I wondered if it would be able to unfurl itself.Verdict: Dormant. When the sun hit it, the worm definitely unfurled itself, until I finally relocated it to an area where it would be in less peril.
The last contestant in this game is the American beautyberry. I couldn't get a good picture of it (them really, there are two) because neither has any leaves. They are just a stick in the ground with a few small branches.

Maybe, maybe this tip shows that some new growth will come.

Verdict: Dormant. Goodness, I hope so. Otherwise, combined the plants above that I've killed, I may only have living plants in two of my three new beds!


  1. You're very good at this game! Maybe this summer will not be another record breaking drought and you won't have to be drafted for this team. Gail

  2. @Gail We Austinites don't have to wonder whether this summer will be "another" record-breaking drought because we're still in the drought from last summer--17 months and counting.

    @Vertie Try scratching the bark with your fingernail. If you brown and dry, it's dead; if green, then okay. Of course, lots of things die all the way down to their roots in a freeze. I think your chili pequin is dead though.

  3. We'll be replaying this dormant or dead game for a couple of months, Vertie! In my garden a few plants will probably make it through this winter, but then foolishly wake up too early in spring and get knocked off by a late freeze.

    I think you're right on the Mexican Mint marigold - mine usually looks like that each year. Chile pequins sometimes die back pretty far and then tiny leaves resprout at the lower nodes.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Oops - went to preview and then saw MSS/Zanthan's comment. She's usually right but for your pepper'a sake, hope she's wrong for once!

  4. I should play this game with my plants. I am so waiting to see what spring brings.

  5. I've been playing this game myself lately, what with digging up a few beds and moving things around willy-nilly. The one dead giveaway-- pun intended-- for me to tell whether something's still viable is to take a whiff of the roots when I dig it up. If the roots are brown and smell moldy, that poor sucker's never coming back.

  6. I think everything looks pretty normal for this time of year, Vertie. I suggest that it's all dormant except maybe that first chile pequin. But I'd give it another month just to be sure.

    And moving plants at this time of year is perfectly fine. Better now than in May.

  7. I'm going to agree with you on all of those verdicts. My MX Mint Marigold looks exactly like that and it has come back before. My big questions are on my Rose of Sharon's and my trees. I always old my breath until I see tiny buds.

  8. You surprise me if the chile pequin is dead because it is the hardest plant to kill. If you really want some I'll pot some up for you. Also Mexican Mint. Don't give up on the American Beautyberry. Mine look the same. These plants are pretty tough. It certainly has not been a good time to be putting new plants in. In fact most of my garden is looking very dead and dreary at the moment.

  9. I second Lancashire Rose. Chile pequin is pretty darn scrappy--I'd bet on "dormant" for that one. I've been playing the same game with my baby trees: pistache, dead; basswood, dormant; baldcypress, half-dead... I hope your others come back for you!

  10. My chili pequins dies back to the ground every year and always come back, probably dormant.

    The beauty berry is ok as well. They some times die back a few inches on the tips but it will be back. Good luck, we all need it this year.

  11. I love this game! I agree that the Mexican mint marigold is dormant. And very possibly the chile pequin is, too. I agree with Pam to wait before tagging it as dead. Linda

  12. Hi Ms. Vertie, I play the dormant or dead game quite often, but that's not why I'm commenting. :) I was googling Matt's wild cherry tomato and found a comment you left a few weeks ago on someone else's blog, saying you were interested in it. I found wild cherry starts at Shoal Creek Nursery and bought a couple - they had several more, if you're interested.