We have a bunch of shrubs like this in our front yard. They are green year round, and can handle the Arizona heat. Technically they are called wax-leaf privets, but that’s not important for the story. It will suit my purposes to just call it “The Shrub.”
This past winter, when vegetation like this normally thrives, the shrub started dropping leaves. In a ridiculously short time, it ended up looking like this.
Great. A dead shrub right out in front of our house. It had been there for 14 years, doing what it was supposed to be doing, then – boom – this. If we lived in a climate where plants went dormant in the winter it would make total sense. This did not.
I checked and it seemed that it was still getting water, like all the other shrubs.
There were two obvious approaches: 1) Yank it out and put a new one in. 2) Wait and see if it was really dead dead, or it would snap out of it.
I decided to wait. I was not prepared to give up on this shrub.
Over the next few months there was no change for the better. In fact, the branches became more brittle and it seemed less likely to make a comeback. But I can be a stubborn man.
Or maybe a hopeful man. Stubbornness and hope are often confused for one another.
Months later, on a day in February, my hope was rewarded. I was checking on my “project,” when my eye caught something: A tiny fleck of green.
Deep down inside the tangle of dry, brittle branches, I saw a few tiny leaf buds emerging. They were scattered in several parts of the shrub. I don’t know why, or how it happened, but something deep inside of the plant decided to wake up. I knew it! I knew this shrub was not dead.
I kept checking on it as the buds became leaves, until I noticed that something was still very wrong. Most of the new leaves had some kind of weirdness happening on the edges, and then they were curing up and dying. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy and miraculous as I thought.
I had no idea what was killing the leaves. My friend Dave is an agronomist, so I texted him this picture.
His reply. Water. They need more water. His expert eyes immediately told him what was wrong, and what I should do. There was salt buildup and the shrub needed to be doused with enough purewater to wash it out of its system. “That simple?” I asked.
Water it is. Not only did I increase the normal drip irrigation amount, every few days I would put the hose on it and flood the soil around it with pure water. No special tricks – just water.
It was still struggling, but I was determined. Progress was slow, but it was discernible.
A couple of things got in the way. I don’t know if they were real culprits or not, but I treated them as such.
The first, was that occasionally I would find something competing with the shrub. Other plants would sprout up and steal the water, and even entangle in the roots. I knew my shrub could not fight this off alone.
Yeah, I yanked them up.
Then, something started eating the leaves.
Started doing what I could to keep those pests at bay.
Eventually, the shrub began to progress. The leaves started to fill in the empty spaces. Sure, it looked ratty, as I was hesitant to prune it hard until it seemed stronger. Patience was still required.
With water and time, the shrub began to regain a semblance of its former self. The leaves grew larger and greener. I even mustered up the courage to give it a trim.
That is not to say that everything is back to normal. I’m still providing the shrub incredible amounts of water. There are dead twigs throughout, and gaping holes, and there probably will be for a long time. I can wait.
But I am happy to see that it is green when I drive up to the house. I am concerned how it will tolerate the intense heat that is quickly coming in. Arizona summers can really test the heartiness of vegetation.
Sure, I could have yanked it out the first week and replaced it with a healthy plant, but my instincts don’t work that way.
What I took away from watching this shrub:
- Be patient. Thing can change, and they change in their own due course.
- Hope can be rewarded.
- With enough pure water some seemingly dead things can return to life.