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Even after a mild winter, a garden may suffer the loss of one or more perennial plants. My best advice when something dies: Don’t take it personally.

A garden is, after all, made up of mostly living things; even your Uncle George on the lawn chair in July is mostly alive. And living things have their own lives, their own agendas.

What you don’t want to do is give up too soon. Some plants are very slow to begin growing in the spring. I recommend waiting at least until the end of May before you send anything to the compost pile. In some cases, you may want to wait until early June to be sure.

Evening primrose (Oenothera missouriensis), warm season grasses such as maiden grass (Miscanthus), hosta and coneflower (Echinacea) will usually be slower to wake up in the spring. The hardy hibiscus is perhaps the last perennial to get going in the flower bed. It may show no sign of life until well after all other perennials have begun growing and even blooming.

Be patient and try not to let someone loose with the tiller until you are certain they have passed on.

Micro-climates in your garden will also influence how quickly plants emerge from dormancy. In a shaded area, on the north side of a building or in any place blocking the sun’s warming effects, plants will be slower to begin growing.

Tree branches will be brittle and snap easily if they are dead; those should be pruned out. Lightly scratching the bark will typically reveal some green tissue if a branch is still living.

Equally important is giving up on a plant when all hope is gone. I say all hope, but what I really mean is when it is dead or irretrievably ugly.

Now comes the tricky part of the job: disposing of the remains. There is no need to alert others to the possibility that you might not be the perfect gardener. I usually cover my pile of failures with counterfeit money so people won’t notice so much. You can also drive them immediately to the dump, where seeing your neighbor’s mistakes may bring you comfort.

After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at

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