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.

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.

The Freshly Dead

The freshly dead plants are those 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.

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 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!

From left to right:
Silver Fox Willow: 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: 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: 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 on branch with a leaf or three that is hanging on. It’s the only thing that looks alive on the plant so… toss it? Maybe!

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.

And wait.

I’ve had some plants come back after milking-them along for weeks, finally figuring out that it was just too hot for them. 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. I’ve had tree drop its leave then recover after soaking it and giving it some love. It’ll depend upon the plant.

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 dead or alive if you have the patience but read the tip in the next section. 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!!
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!

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?”

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 try.

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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