What held its leaves may now need help

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Sometimes plants are still shaggy in spring with last year's leaves. 

Sometimes this is okay.
Sometimes that plant needs help.

In spring, it pays to know which plants you see that are shaggy with last year's leaves are okay, and which may need your help.

We're okay, we meant to hold our leaves!

Some plants have a perfectly natural habit of holding onto leaves through winter, not dropping them until new growth begins in spring: Oak, beech (below), Golden Vicary privet and spring witchhazels, for example.

Below: We like the warm creamy salmon of the beech's marcescent foliage so much we took leaves to the paint store to have the color mixed for our bedroom.

This Parrotia tree not only hung onto last year's leaves but as spring approaches it's still displaying last fall's color.

This Parrotia tree not only hung onto last year's leaves but as spring approaches it's still displaying last fall's color.

Below: We like the warm creamy salmon of the beech's marcescent foliage so much we took leaves to the paint store to have the color mixed for our bedroom.

Often, this marcescent foliage (persistent over winter) foliage occurs on juvenile growth -- branches that were not yet of age or condition to produce blooms that year.

The juvenile foliage of the oak (below, left) is concentrated in the interior of the canopy and highlighted in winter by its persistent leaves. The Parrotia tree (below, center) follows suit.

Spring witchhazels (Hamamelis x mollis and H. vernalis) often hold onto leaves (below, right), a habit that does not improve the looks of the plant in bloom. Fortunately, the tendency often disappears as the shrubs ages

Help! These leaves should have dropped!

Sometimes plants hang onto leaves because even if they do not normally tend toward marcescence. That can mean there is a problem. Some process such as leaf drop or hardening-off was not completed and the leaves either died or were killed while still on the branch.

This smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) caught our attention by holding its foliage this winter.

Parrotia (P. persica, featured at the top of this page) is a small tree in the witchhazel family, often grown specifically for its beautiful orange fall foliage. We haven't seen them hold leaves through winter before this year; perhaps it's a family tendency we've overlooked but it could mean there's a problem. At any rate, we won't begrudge some extra attention to such a beautiful little tree.

Many kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa, also called Chinese dogwood) held their leaves. We think they will need help this year -- we have also seen that they are probably not going to bloom well, if at all.

If you notice one of your trees or shrubs broke from its
 norm and hung onto leaves, or retained more leaves
 than its usual it will probably be a good move to tend to
 that plant with extra water and fertilizer this spring.
 (We investiaged one of these plants in deatil, in
 Oak leaves hang on.)

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