The heat in July and August took a toll on more than a few plants. The sad news is some plants died, and because dead is dead in the plant world, you might as well remove it.

The heat in July and August took a toll on more than a few plants. The sad news is some plants died, and because dead is dead in the plant world, you might as well remove it.

Leaving a dead plant sends a signal to your neighbors and fellow gardeners: “Hey, there’s a dead plant in Bob’s yard.” But first, make absolutely sure the plant is dead, and make sure it’s not pretending or masquerading.

You’d think it would be easy, and usually it is. Take a look at the plant, crumble a few leaves in your hand and snap a few stems, limbs and/or branches. Look for green buds and growth at the end of the branches. If everything has a brown overtone and crispness to it, you probably need to admit the plant is dead.

Vegetables usually are the easiest, followed by the annual flowers. Plants flopping over on the ground and not perking up at night should be a first indicator, on top of the lack of any fresh green color.

Occasionally, a plant will recover at night and look fresh in the morning. If this is the case, give the plant a thorough watering and keep your fingers crossed. It might recover.

On the other hand, it might not. It might continue the downward spiral toward the compost graveyard. Sometimes, like our pets, it’s better to put the plant out of its misery and take the proactive step of adding it to the compost pile or yard waste garden can. Nothing looks worse in the garden than a dead vegetable plant.

Sometimes the dead plant starts smelling like a rotting squirrel — neither are odors we appreciate. Some gardeners will spade the plants under the soil, which is similar to giving the squirrel a burial. It’s an alternative.

Besides, bare soil doesn’t look that bad. This late in the season, you probably won’t get that many weeds popping up. Or better yet, you can put that space to use with broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage transplants for a late harvest, or rows of leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard, turnip greens and lettuce.

Annual flowers also don’t like it when there is heat and no water. They’ll wilt, turn brown and not really recover. Some annuals will look bedraggled and can use a so-called good haircut.

Take your clippers and cut the plants back by half. It may seem difficult, though after a few bottles, cans or glasses of liquid refreshment you can find it quite easy. Just remember to cut the top half, and leave the bottom half.

This is a great process for marigold, zinnias and especially petunia flowers. Geraniums don’t really need it; they just need cool nights to revive.

Some of the foliage plants, such as coleus can be cut to a side shoot. A simple snipping of the offending dead leaf or stem may be all you need.

The next step is to fertilize the remaining vegetables and annuals. A liquid fertilizer such as, but not limited to, Miracle-Gro or Rapid-Grow is probably the best approach.

But if the plant is dead, all the fertilizer in the world is as worthwhile as all the king’s horses were for Humpty Dumpty. Dead is dead.

Perennials are another matter. Some are tender wimps while others are tough little buggers. If the plant grows like a weed, it probably will survive. Hostas, daylilies, Shasta daisies, peonies, many but not all ferns and most wildflowers, such as coneflowers and Joe Pye-weed, will surely pop up next spring. Watering won’t hurt them, unless you forget to turn off the sprinkler and drown the plant.

When it comes to the trees and shrubs, not everything is so cut and dried.
Brown evergreens are more than likely dead; once the needles turn brown over an entire limb, you’re sunk. If the entire plant turns brown, it’s probably a good candidate for firewood if seasoned for a couple of years.

Many of our multi-stemmed shrubs, such as forsythia, spirea and lilacs, may resprout come September. So will some hydrangeas. If not, wait until next spring before grubbing out the plant. Plants don’t hibernate for several years before magically re-leafing.

Our shade and flowering trees are more of a time and financial investment. Over the years, many homeowners have removed trees that weren’t totally dead but looked that way.

A classic example is a bald cypress, which really is a deciduous conifer, which means it looks like an evergreen but drops its needles every fall. Sometimes, because of hot dry conditions and not realizing that it’s August instead of November, it will drop its needles. But if you did nothing, it would produce a flush of new needles next spring.

Some trees will drop loads of leaves as a means of survival in extremely hot weather. Lump birches, poplars and tulip trees are in that category. Other trees will develop a scorch-like condition where leaves turn brown along the edges and sometimes down the middle. Many drop prematurely.

In these cases, wait until next spring to see if the tree is alive. If limbs are still flexible and can be bent without snapping, and if you see green buds, hold off.

David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.