Dealing with brown leaves and evergreens

Last week’s rain turned the world green. Lawns that were slow in turning appeared to change colour overnight. Dust was removed from the evergreens leaving them a clean, dark green.

Last week’s rain turned the world green. Lawns that were slow in turning appeared to change colour overnight. Dust was removed from the evergreens leaving them a clean, dark green.

Unfortunately, not all is green. Trees that were still in leaf when the early frost came last fall are a combination of brown and green.

New leaves have emerged but old, soft brown leaves are still attached to the plants. Usually this is a sign of a diseased tree but not this year. It appears that the brown leaves will stay intact.

They must be physically removed. They will not damage the tree but they are not pleasing to the eye.

Brown evergreens are a different story. Brown needles on the inside of the tree, closest to the main trunk, are considered normal. Needles only last so many years then they die. Large evergreen trees are bare in the centre with needles on the outermost branches. The natural shape of the tree hides the bare areas giving an illusion of green throughout.

Brown needles or scales on the outside of the plant are bad news. It tells us that the plant transpired, or lost too much moisture during the winter and spring. Evergreens that lose more moisture than what they have in storage or can take in, turn a strange shade of green then brown.

For the most part these plants are dead. Occasionally cedars will start to send out some new growth in June. If this is the case remove all plant material that is not green. Expect a strange shaped plant for a season or two until it can put on enough new growth to regain its initial shape.

If the dead-looking evergreens were planted last season, check the bill of sale to see if they have a guarantee or warranty. If so, phone the company and enquire if they need to see a picture of the dead plant or have the plant returned. Make sure to contact the company before the guarantee expires.

Cedars will grow in our area but they need to be properly placed.

Plant them in an area that is sheltered from the wind and sun during the winter months. Covering cedars with burlap in the fall will help protect the plants from excess sunlight and the sun’s reflection on the snow.

When woody plants have die back they can be slow to emerge from winter dormancy. Leave the plant until the middle of June. If it hasn’t formed any new buds or growth from the roots it should be removed.

Treat roses, especially the hardy varieties, similar to shrubs. Once they bud out remove all dead wood above the highest bud. Roses bloom on this year’s wood which guarantees there will be flowers each year despite winter damage.

Perennial plants tend to break dormancy from mid April to mid June.

Gardeners that have drawn a grid of their garden or have a good memory will know what plant is missing. Gentle probing into the area should tell if the plant is alive. Dead roots will crumble with the majority of the mass being brown or black. Live roots are usually hard and white. Look at the top of the root mass to see if there are buds or tiny shoots that indicate new growth is imminent.

Do not be in a hurry to declare plants dead in the spring as some plants will take longer to break dormancy than others.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at your_garden@hotmail.com