Have I killed these plants?
May 15, 2014 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Last summer, I put a row of plants in my east window box--USDA Zone 6A in Somerville, MA. They seem "behind" others in the neighborhood. I can't find information on when they should sprout. Have I killed them or am I being impatient? Did I not let some of them seed? Most importantly, do I need to replace them? Or if not, how can I care for them as they return? More below!

All of these plants were put in as seedlings. They did well during the summer, except for the chevril which I killed off due to lack of water. My east window box is on the 3rd floor of an apartment building, and gets a moderate amount of sun--it's not blocked by other buildings. They all stayed outside during the winter. I don't think any thing bloomed (except the roses and violets) so I'm unsure what will and won't seed.

I was happy to see little seedlings appearing among them this past month--then chagrined when I realized it was all propeller seeds which had got in and I hadn't cleared out enough.

I'll try to post pictures later if I can--I hope descriptions can help though.

Progress reports:

Small rose plants in a planter box. I have a bunch of dead twigs sticking up. No leaves on them, unlike other rose bushes in the neighborhood. HOWEVER I do see two tiny clumps of leaves coming out of the soil, which look like rose leaves. When I put them in last year, I was told by the nursery they could be outside.

English thyme in its original plastic container. What looks like moss in some places... and what could be tiny, tiny embryo thyme plants for the past week or so; for now I'm willing to be patient.

Chives in original plastic pot: For the past few weeks, what look like curled round green bubbles on the soil... smaller than a pencil eraser.

Lavender in original plastic pot: Only dead stalks. This didn't bloom last year but it did produce green leaves.

Mint plants in a planter box: Only dead stalks.

Chevril in a pot: Nothing, just soil.

Common Rosemary in its plastic container: Just dead stalks and one dual-leaf sprout that I suspect is a propeller seed.

Parsley in its plastic container: Nothing--I bought a replacement already because I think it seeds biennially?

Labrador violets in a planter box: Finally I have a few tiny violet-leaf-shaped leaves! In amongst what I believe are dozens of propeller sprouts... this is WAY behind other violets in the neighborhood on people's lawns. However it kept blossoming into June last year, and the leaves stayed very nice into the fall I think, so perhaps this is a late bloomer? I think I want to let everything get a little bigger before I start deciding what to pull out of there.

I am willing to repot things as needed but unfortunately have no other spot to move them to.

Honest question: if some of these are annuals do gardeners really replant them each year?
posted by Hypatia to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry if I'm missing something - these plants were outside in a window box or small plastic containers for all of the winter? If so, they're completely totally dead.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:44 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most of those plants are treated as annuals here in the Northeast, yes. Roses will over-winter when planted in the ground (and many people will cover them). Rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, as is Lavender. It's really hard to get those to come back, especially in pots and especially after the very cold and nasty winter we just went through.

When I plant herbs in pots, I always figure they are annuals. Parsley technically is a biannual but I treat it as an annual (tho' if it were in the ground, it might come back). Violets as well.

The problem is that the ground and snow cover serve to insulate plants and then they wake up in the spring (like mint, which is very hardy, as is parsley and violets). But the pots don't do that, think of them more like ice cube trays instead of big blankets of dirt.

I would get new dirt, new plants, and chalk it up to experience. If the violets came back, consider yourself lucky!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am also in Somerville, hello neighbor!

Rule if thumb, we're zone 6 but not for plants in pots. They are not as well insulated as plants growing in the ground so they are a lot more delicate, almost two zones off. To reliably overwinter in containers you want plants hardy to zone 4.

Roses: potentially dead. They should have buds on them by now, at the very least. If they truly are sprouting from the root they might not be what you bought since many varieties are grafted (and root stock is notoriously hardier).

Thyme: mine died too and it was planted in the ground. Keep an eye on the seedlings but don't hold your breath.

Lavender: most likely dead. It should have sprouted by now and actually shouldn't have lost all its leaves over the winter. You can pinch a twig off close to the base, if it's greenish it's alive, if it snaps off and is dry it's dead.

Chervil: replant, it's better grown as an annual.

Rosemary: dead as a doorknob. Rosemary isn't hardy here in the best of winters and this winter was not a good one. Bring it inside next winter.

Parsley: dead. Replant, it's better grown as an annual.

Violets: might make it. Take the wait and see approach.
posted by lydhre at 4:47 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chives are perennial, and it sounds like yours have sprouted, though it seems a bit belated. We're in zone 5a, and not only have ours come up in our planter (left out through the winter) for the third year in a row, but they've already flowered. Anyway, I'd water them and keep an eye on them and see how they go. Plant other stuff around them. It's not too late.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:47 PM on May 15, 2014

The labrador violets should be okay. They're pretty hard to kill even in pots even after this exciting winter we just had. The rose is probably dead above the ground but is growing new shoots from the base of the plant. Give them another week and if you see no green or firm buds, they're dead. If you see green or firm buds, cut the plant somewhat less than half a cm above the highest bud on each branch. This is pruning.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:24 AM on May 16, 2014

Did you use any fertilizer or compost or anything to replenish the nutrients in the soil since you planted last year? From my understanding, when growing in containers the nutrients in the soil deplete much more quickly than they would if they were planted in the ground, which is one of the reasons it's difficult to grow perennials in containers.
posted by inertia at 8:02 AM on May 16, 2014

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