September 4, 2010

1 - Identify the cause of death of a plant before replacing the same kind of plant at the same site, or choose other plants to use.

Yard and Garden - September 4, 2010


Last year we planted a dwarf nectarine tree in Bosque Farms. It came through the winter fine and in May this year it had beautiful leaves and flowers on it. Then we had high winds and it lost all its leaves and flowers. It still looks dead but we are reluctant to dig it up in case it might come back next year. All our other trees and shrubs came back fine. Should we do anything to help the dwarf nectarine? Is there any chance it might come back?

- Joe W.

Bosque Farms


If there is a layer of green tissue just under the "skin" on the twigs, and they are flexible, they are still alive. They may come back next year (no guarantees!). If the layer just under the skin of the twigs or trunk is brown, then it is dead and probably will not come back.

Should it looks like it may come back, be careful to keep the soil moist, but do not overwater it. Without leaves, the tree will need a lot less water. Too much water will cause root rot.

Q. (follow-up)

We scraped the twigs today and they are indeed very dry and dead. We will dig it up and try to plant something else this fall. We would like another dwarf fruit tree. Any suggestions would be welcome.

- Joe W.


Before planting something else, it is wise to try to determine what may have killed the tree. Look for insects that may have fed on the roots, signs that gophers chewed the roots, or disease. If you think disease is a possibility, I suggest you take the tree to your local County Extension office after you dig it up. Your local NMSU County Extension office can send the sample to the NMSU Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. It may be too late to get a good determination of what killed it, but if they find a disease organism, this may indicate what NOT to plant at that site. If there is no disease problem, and no insects persist in the soil at that site, another dwarf nectarine may be OK, if that is what you want. Or, a dwarf apple tree could be planted. A warning about dwarf apple trees there are varying degrees of dwarfing. Some dwarf apple trees may still grow 20 feet tall; some will stay under 10 feet. Consider which dwarfing rootstock is used and what the ultimate size of the tree will be. There are also fruiting shrubs to consider. I am growing black currants. These do not get too tall and produce tasty fruit. Gooseberries, thornless blackberries, and other shrubs and small fruits may serve your needs without getting too tall. This really depends on what you like and what the Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab determines may be the problem.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!