Why did this plant die?

I’m totally bummed. I’ve had this bamboo plant for several years now and it has always thrived. For some reason, this month it appears to have died. I haven’t moved it and the weather is the same as it usually is… mildly cold and rainy. We had a few sunny days, but nothing too extraordinary. Here is the plant back in October:

Those previously lush green leaves, with healthy and normal hints of red and yellow have turned into this:

This plant has survived several years in Portland outside. In the summer, I watered it everyday and it thrived and grew fuller and lusher every day. I replanted it with fresh soil back in July or August and it continued to do well. When the rains started, I stopped watering it just as I had in years past. When it was sunny for a few days this month, I watered it a bit. This was around the time I noticed it really wasn’t looking too hot.

I actually found the info tag that came with the plant. The bamboo variety is “Gulf Stream Nandina.” The instructions state:

  • Plant in full sun for best leaf color and growth. Will tolerate light shade.
  • Hardy to -10 degrees to 0 degrees F.
  • Type: Evergreen. (I think this means it is NOT supposed to turn brown and yellow and dead looking! Ever!)
  • Keep soil moist until established. Drought tolerant when established.
  • Asexual reproduction of this plant is prohibited by law. (Tee hee. Um, I realize this is probably irrelevant to my current problem but I thought that little notice was funny when I read it.)

I don’t know anything about plants and this is one of only two plants I own. The other is a tiny spider plant in my kitchen. So what happened? What can I do? Any ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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13 Responses to Why did this plant die?

  1. katpolkadot says:

    I imagine that it couldn’t last that many years of possibly having its roots frozen. Pots often don’t provide enough protection for the roots, keeping them from freezing. Or, it may have needed some more fertilizer back in the warmer days to keep it going.

    • Lindsay says:

      That could certainly be. It’s so mild in the winter here though, rarely gets below 40. We had a few cold snaps and I probably should have put it in the garage.

  2. Ana says:

    Evergreen means that it wont lose all its leaves every year. Therefore,although it looks like the plant is in stress it probably is not dead yet. I would go to a local nursery for further information. It may have some sort of plant disease. Definitely not a plant expert though what little I know is from my boyfriend thats a horticulturist but he knows different kinds of plants. We live in TX! Hope you can get the plant to continue living! 🙂

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Ana. Maybe I will take it to a local nursery and see what they say. I can even take it back to the place where I got it for advice. Thanks 🙂

  3. MM says:

    Bamboo is generally difficult to kill. (Not meant as a dig!) Check for pests–tiny spider mites under the leaves leave an almost invisable web. You might not even be able to see the mites. If it’s infested with mites, my suggestion is to say goodbye to the plant. They are almost impossible to eradicate.

    The idea of checking with a local horticulturalist is good–any good plants stores near you where you could take a branch?

    As a last ditch effort, you can try cutting back all the dead stuff. I mean everything. Take off the top layer of soil down about 3 inches. In fact, take the plant out of the pot, check the roots for rot. If there is some rot and some good roots, you can try cutting away the rot and following the directions below. If the roots are rotted more than 50%, it’s time to say goodbye to your plant. 😦

    While the plant is out of the pot, scrub the pot out with very hot water and a mild bleach solution. Rinse well. Let air dry to remove all traces of bleach. Repot and replace the soil you removed. Water, and since we are beginning the growing season, fertilize. I like slow release fertizilers.

    Since it liked that spot for so long, you can leave it there, or move it to a warm, sunny location to encourage growth.

    Sounds like a lot of work, but if you really like the plant, you might not mind it. I have quite a few plants and have a potting bench, so my supplies are always handy. That makes the job less daunting.

    Oh, and btw, I’ve had any number of plants come back from being cut all the way back, especially in the right season. Good luck!

    • Lindsay says:

      Now see, this is why I don’t have a lot of plants! Sigh.

      Thanks for the tips, I really appreciate it and I’ll keep you posted on progress… or lack there of. I’ll definitely check for pests.

      Oh, and your suggestion to put the plant in a sunny spot made me giggle a little. Portland has seen about 20 minutes of sun over the past four months 🙂

  4. plantnerd says:

    i would just wait a bit, lindsay, to see if it will push out new foliage this spring. the last two winters have done some strange things to even the hardiest plants. nandina is tough (and not a true bamboo) but i have noticed quite a few around town that have defoliated. you can scrape the bark a little with your thumbnail – if you see green underneath, it’s alive! if it is brown, not so good.

    does the pot have adequate drainage? (there should be at least one hole in the bottom) also, if you stick your finger into the soil, is it soggy or just damp? too much water can be just as bad as too little.

    • Lindsay says:

      Cool, OK I am somewhat relived that you’ve seen this with others around town. I will definitely check soil moisture and scrape the stem and report back. Thanks!

  5. MM says:

    Plantnerd has very good insight and advice. Not living in Portland (sigh) and not having the benefit of seeing other plants of this sort out and about is a handicap.

    There are many plants that thrive on benign neglect! My biggest problem right now is my foraging cat–anything that resembles grass is a gonner unless I can get it completely out of her reach.

    This is a good time to ask: what are your thoughts on artificial plants in decor? If they are very, very good quality? (as in cannot tell the difference until you get very close) I have a couple to put in places that either wouldn’t be plant heathly or they are plants that wouldn’t survive my plant demon.

    Thanks for your thoughts, one and all.

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