(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 21, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The other day, during my morning coffee making ritual, I lifted the lid on the household compost pail to toss in the grounds and stopped short. There, laying forlorn on top of the peelings, grounds and lettuce leaves, was one of my plants. A Begonia.
"Hey", I yelled out, "how'd this get in there?" As if I didn't already know.
Darling Hubby yelled back "It's dead."
"Is not" said I. "It's resting."
There was a "snort" sound from the living room area. I shook my head and set the poor plant on the counter to resume my coffee making ritual. Once the soothing aroma of perking coffee started wafting from the machine, I set about re-potting the poor begonia.
It was resting. That particular Begonia hates being in the house during its winter confinement. It is much happier out on the front porch and is not shy about letting me know it. Much too big for a terrarium environment, it has to survive, barely, hung in a dining room window. It loses all of its leaves eventually, and, honestly, looks "dead", especially this time of the year. I know better though. No matter how bad it looks, those bare branches are just waiting to spring back to life with new leaves. I just have to keep it alive until the warmth comes back to the sun.
I'm sure most of us have been there, having to protect our plants from well meaning, yet unknowledgeable,
Point two. Every fall I drag my poor Tropical Hibiscus, Oleander and Plumeria away from their happy homes on the back deck and shove them into artificially heated environments. They thank me by almost instantly dropping all of their leaves. I have the almost exact conversation as above with DH, except this time as he's dragging the poor things out into the snow to toss directly onto the compost pile. The frigid breeze emanating from the kitchen as he's propping the door open is the giveaway.
"But they're not dead" I holler over the wind.
He gives me "that look" and drags them back inside.
They aren't dead either. Their leaves will grow back, the Hibiscus in a few weeks or sooner. The Oleander as soon as I give it a good trim.
The Plumeria are dormant. I keep them in a cool closet. Good examples of this are some Geraniums, they can be hung in the basement for the winter in a dormant state and brought out in the spring to grow again.
The shock of a climate change, mostly because I don't do the recommended "acclimating" ritual in the fall like I do in the spring, causes the leaves to drop from the Hibiscus. This does not mean the plant is dead. Underwatering would have the same effect. When we forget to water our plants, the leaves die and fall off. The plant looks dead. The roots however are still kicking, depending, of course, on how long it's been allowed to go dry :)
Point three. A good friend of mine was caught by me one day throwing a big 8 inch hanging pot in the garbage. It was the remnants of her Prayer Plant. There was nothing alive above the surface of the soil. I asked her if I could have it. I got one of "those looks of disbelief" from her too. But, I brought it home, gave it some water and a little TLC, and before I knew it bright green, new shoots were popping up everywhere. It turned into the most amazingly full pot I had ever seen. And to think it almost ended up at the dump.
You see, even though there is no life visible above the soil, it doesn't mean the roots are dead too. The next time you find that "dead" plant, you know, the one tucked in the corner out of sight behind the 25 or so happy ones, don't give up on it right away. Cut off all of the dead material, give it a good drink, place it somewhere in bright light, and watch it for a couple of weeks. It just may surprise you and start growing again!!!