The Halloween Garden from the Gardening in Miniature Prop Shop Book. A project book written for miniature gardeners by a miniature gardener. Photo by Kate Baldwin. You can find this project in the Miniature Garden Society too.

Did your plant just die?

Did you get distracted for a week and forget to water it?

Did it get fried in the sun by accident?

Just wait a minute before you toss that plant into the compost bin because sometimes – just sometimes! – a plant that looks dead, isn’t dead – YET. There is a chance you can save it and all you gotta do is try.

So, since it is Halloween-season, I’ve come up with a few categories for your dead-to-dying plants that will hopefully save some heartache and some money. This is not just for miniature garden plants – it’s for just about any plant – in-ground, in a container, indoors or outdoors. Let’s dig in to the types of “death” you might be seeing.

Miniature Zombie Gardening with Janit Calvo
Learn how to make your very own miniature zombie in the Gardening in Miniature Prop Shop Book. It’s a perfect way to reuse / recycle your broken accessories. You can find this project in the Miniature Garden Society too.

The Freshly Dead

The ‘freshly dead’ are the plants who have JUST wilted and the whole plant suddenly looks droopy and sad.

One day it’s fine and the next it’s not. Annuals, like our favorite Miniature Zinnias (Sanvitalias,) are famous for this behavior because they need to be watered consistently. Many folks just give up at this point but there is a good chance it can be brought back to life by just watering it…

Note that if you pay attention to how your plants look when they are happy and healthy: the color, position and shine of their leaves, for example, you’ll be able to “read” your plants better when they are in need of your help. This intuition comes with practice and observing, anyone can do it.

The Zombie Dead

Zombie-dead plants drop all their leaves, or their leaves have completely dried out on the stem/trunk.

Sedums and succulents, and some deciduous trees and shrubs, can fall into this category when they dry out unexpectedly. Again, how the plant looks at this stage is often reason-enough to toss it – but wait! There might be hope! Don’t give up yet!

From left to right:
Silver Fox Willow: [Zombie Dead] This poor tree dropped all its leaves when I missed watering it during the heat wave in the summer. I knew it was still alive because of the healthy buds. I won’t get any leaves coming back this year, but next spring it should flush-out as usual.
Miniature Fuschia: [Freshly Dead] I normally don’t nurse plants as long as I nursed this one but I tried anyway because I seldom see them for sale. I was rewarded for my stubbornness when the weather cooled off and the leaves started to grow. Prior to that it looked dead.
Variegated Jade: [Walking Dead] I should have composted this a loooong time ago. Lol! But when I see a bit of green, I know there is hope.

The Walking Dead

Are plants that look completely dead but they still have one branch with a lonely leaf or three that are desperately hanging on. It’s the only thing that looks alive on the plant so… toss it? Maybe! But wait! There’s more….

What To Do?

Water it. Water it well. Soak the planter in a tray. Soak the pot in a bucket. Drench the garden bed around the plant really well.

Then wait. And have some patience with it.

What May Happen:

  • I’ve had some plants come back after nurturing them for weeks, finally figuring out that it was just too hot for them and when the weather cooled off, it recovered.
  • I’ve had some plants bounce back within the hour.
  • I’ve had deciduous shrubs drop all its leaves only to burst out in buds after it got a drink.
  • And I’ve had tree drop its leave then recover after soaking it and giving it some love.

It’ll depend upon the plant on how and if it recovers but it’s certainly worth a try in my books.

Now, if it’s an outdoor plant that is going dormant, you might have to wait until next spring to be sure of whether it’s really dead or alive. If you’re reading/doing this during the growing season, in theory you should see some sort of growth within a few days.

One Eyed Wilma! The googly eye is the funniest. No, wait, the peg leg is. Lol! Po’ Wilma!!
Is it dead or alive? Gently scrap a small spot of the bark with your fingernail or a knife (be gentle!) to see if the wood underneath is green. If it is, there’s hope!

Is it Really Dead? When to Write the Death Certificate

If the plant doesn’t perk up readily, verify its death by scraping a little bark off the trunk or stem to see the wood underneath. If it’s green, it’s still alive so keep up with the regular watering and the plant should recover.

If the wood beneath the bark is brown, that wood is dead and can’t be revived. This is where you can use The Google to get more specific by asking, “My _________ looks dead, will it come back?” But the brown wood is usually a strong indicator that that branch can no longer grow.

The main point is to react right away.

As with anything, if you recognize the initial signs of anything going wrong, or failing, you have a much better chance to put it right if you react right away, instead of letting it go too far. And all you got to do is water it and wait.

Did this Help You?

Normally, being a garden center owner, one would not advise this type of thing because it does nothing to sell more plants. “They” would probably advise you to just throw the plant out and buy another. I’m not a normal garden center owner and, yes, I’m shooting myself in the foot by telling you this! So, if this helped and you are overjoyed that it saved your plant-baby, feel free to buy us a cup of coffee or a beer. Here’s how.

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Miniature Halloween Garden

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