Every winter some plants die. Others are hurt badly enough that they may be much reduced in size the next year or exhibit poor growth overall. The gardener may not notice the loss or diminishment until budbreak comes for other plants of the same species. Then we hear, “Hmm. It is not growing/growing poorly. I shouldn’t have (cut it back/ watered it/moved it etc.) I killed it!”
That’s the Big Mistake. We don’t need any more self esteem issues in this world!
Place plants in appropriate light, check that the drainage and soil suit the species, then step out of the way. We give ourselves too much credit in thinking our few minutes clipping could have more impact than months of weather. Cut all you will on a healthy lavender, butterfly bush or sage – they rebound. Search by plant name on this site and look at the photos of hard cuts and lush comebacks. We do not fake photos for our articles!
We notice losses as we make our spring visits to gardens. The more we see, the closer we may come to understanding what happened and why certain plants were affected. We can never be sure but we can post our observations and hope they will release you from blame.
The winter of 2019-2020 began early in the U.S. Midwest. In the first week of December it was already bitterly cold and it stayed that way for weeks. Based on the losses we see in spring 2020 we think that early cold had a major impact on woody plants already on the edge of their hardiness. Those plants were not ready for the cold. Stem bases, the last part of a plant to harden in fall, were still full of moisture. The cells there froze, and died.
butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii),
lavender (Lavandula angustifolia),
cooking sage (Salvia officinalis),
hybrid tea roses
blue mist spirea/bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis).
They did not all die and some died only in part. There may be no telling what quirks of air flow, soil moisture or plant companion were salvation, which were death.
That's the Big Lesson. Get over it. Replant!
We are still watching for emergence of some herbaceous perennials that are on the edge. Crocosmia (you may call it ‘Lucifer’) is among those that can grow well for several years in zone 5, spreading into big patches of hummingbird heaven. Perhaps one year in five it runs into winter’s wall. The following spring we may see nothing but a few small shoots emerge, very late. So begins a new cycle of bulking up before the next fall.
Gardeners always push the limits so there are others like Crocosmia that may show up late and small, if at all. We know a zone 4-5 gardener who has kept a supposedly tender Digiplexus goinig for three years; maybe it’s gone. Plenty of people keep whirling butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri) coming back and others have accepted dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) as a perennial. They may look around one day in June and say, “Hey, where did my Gaura go? And weren’t those dusty millers along that edge, there?”
We have no sympathy for those who keep hoping to grow blue hydrangeas well in the Midwest. But we do have advice for pruning the surviving stems!
It is in our Spring Chorus of Wise Words, titled Cut Weak Wood Hard.
No lasting damage but aw, gee, the developing flower buds on some of the fragrant viburnums (V. juddii, V x burkwoodii) were nipped, not by winter but by late spring cold. That surprised us.
At least one plant that really puts one over on Midwest gardeners every year is really in need of the boot now. That’s the bigleaf hydrangea, she of blue or pink flowers… once in a blue moon. Most we’ve seen have had complete cane dieback. Dead to the ground, they are asking their caregivers to do some especially laborious cutting. Won’t you finally pitch those plants?!