Good haircut or beginning of the End?


I have loved my Bottlebrush Tree for a decade now. The love affair has blossomed, or rather, the adapted-from-Australia evergreen shrub has blossomed in recent years in exuberant shows. Spring and Fall both, with occasional shows in the summer, she has been a foundation plant for my front yard. I even devoted another blogpost to her, singing her praises.

In full bloom, almost one year ago

This winter, to showcase her even more, I put in a new bed with her as a focal point.

The new bed with the Evergreen Bottlebrush Tree featured

The day this bed, above, was completed, was the day of our record setting freeze. I finished spreading mulch and dirt in the very very cold weather. I’d seen the Bottlebrush survive icicles hanging from her leaves many times, so I wasn’t concerned. However, this year, with record low temps, we had no moisture at all to protect and insulate the plants.

Never have I seen this damage

You might have noticed that I mentioned “evergreen” several times already. Which means that this beautiful shrub isn’t supposed to have dead, dried leaves at any time. Unfortunately, this is what she looked like a month after the freeze.

When I moved branches to inspect her vitality, they snapped off in my hands. Noooo!

This tender shrub is technically only hardy to Zone 9. Last year, South Austin was officially labeled zone 9, then we had the record freezing temps of 11F (in my yard) just to prove that wrong. Without snow or ice to protect her, the Bottlebrush couldn’t hold up.

Knowing the only way to save her is a really big trim, I waited until today to do it, hoping we are past our extreme freezes for this year.

Her buzz cut

Unfortunately, even with such a severe pruning, many branches still weren’t cut back to green bark. A large part of those branches aren’t bending at all, but I decided to cut this much back – it was all I could stand – and then watch to see where greenery might show up again over the next month. If greenery shows up at all. I would hate to lose her, but if I do, it leaves me a great spot for a Desert Willow, right?

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26 thoughts on “Good haircut or beginning of the End?

  1. Did you do the scratch test at the base of the trunk and find any green at all? That’s the real test. If not, I would wait, but not hold my breath. I’m sure mine is dead, but it was just a tiny little thing and I didn’t have a long relationship with it like you do yours. I’ll keep you both in my prayers!

  2. Diana, I knew I should do that, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I would rather be in denial for another month and see, I suppose. Maybe after taking this drastic step of cutting everything back, I’ll able to make myself check the trunk closely. Sigh.

  3. Oh dear, that’s so hard, I feel for you! I do hope your tree makes it. Who knows, maybe the trimming will spur it to greater heights? At least you all had some good rains this winter, right? That might help it in the long run.

  4. I sure hope she isn’t dead, Robin.

    I have anachacho orchid trees that are always evergreen and a large 5 ft Thryallis in my yard. After the frigid night you wrote about, I woke up to 9 degrees at 8 am when I checked my thermometer. Both orchid trees and the thryallis lost all of their leaves and still have no buds, but when I did the “nick” test, they were all still alive….All of this to say that maybe she isn’t a goner. She is sure a beauty in her photos. Laura

  5. That’s hopeful, Laura. And I want an orchid, tree, too. I’m glad yours seems to have made it. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I was at aggie horticulture today looking at “smallish” trees. From the list there, I narrowed my list down to 3: Bottlebrush, Desert Willow, and Texas Mountain Laurel. Hmmmm, still not sure which to choose.
    Your first photo was making my say “yeah, yeah, that’s it”, but after seeing the damage and the severe pruning, I’m really confused. Do follow up when it starts to put out and let us see how it recovers!

  7. I’ll certainly keep you posted as to the progress, Nola. My first thought is if you don’t already have a Mountain Laurel, get one immediately! Gorgeous evergreen, hardy leaves, with a great show in the spring. Slow growing, so the initial outlay of cash for a larger tree is important. However, the Bottlebrush lived through many other freezes that were wet, so this was certainly an anomaly. We’ll see what happens, right?

  8. I so want one of those beauties! I’m sorry to hear the freezing temps might have harmed her. It’s sad what it’s done to my garden this year.
    Brenda

  9. Brenda, keep checking back in a month or two – I’ll be following up to see how – or if – she recovers. Lots of replanting this spring, isn’t there?

  10. I’m so sorry, Robin! Yeah, about that zone 9 business—I don’t think so, do you? I have a few zone 9 plants that I’m holding my breath over too, waiting to see if they’ll return. But as the days warm and I see no sign of green, I’m starting to fear the worst.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I have seen several trees around here which are in the same condition. I am also holding out on removing lemons, limes and my little flowering senna in the front. I see no sign of green on the bark. One of my lemons had green bark a week ago but I think it was still in the state of dying back. Boo- It won’t stop me from doing the same again. Good luck with yours.

  12. Jenny, I’m trying to take it philosophically. I’ve learned from you guys! It will leave me a vacancy for a new shrub, yes? However, I haven’t given up hope yet. I’m sure your garden was even colder than mine, I loved your flowering Senna and hate to see you lose it.

  13. Pam, it’s so ironic, isn’t it, that we planted zone 9 drought tolerant plants to get through the drought, then the freeze got them? I see no green signs on many things in my yard – part of it is our unbearably late spring, and part of them….well, we’ll just have to wait and see if they return.

  14. Oh total bummer if she’s dead, Robin. We had a Bottlebrush Tree in our Florida garden and one cold snap it froze down to the ground, but it sent up shoots that spring, so maybe there’s still hope. Fingers crossed for good luck. 🙂

  15. Dawn, was yours this big (10+ feet), and did it look as good afterwards? I’m concerned that even if the roots are alive, it might take too many years to coax her back to looking good as a focal point in the front yard.

  16. Oh no, this is awful. No green pith? No nothing? But you love this one so much that if it doesn’t show signs of life soon, just get another. It will be a long while (I hope) before we get another 11 degree freeze like this. You’ve loved it for a decade. Mountain laurel would be beautiful but not the same for you. Desert willow is great but can be really ugly too. Just try again with your beloved if this one doesn’t show signs of life in a few weeks. So sorry.

  17. Oh, just read last post from Dawn. I’ll tell you this, Robin. My evergreen sumac looked lost in the freeze a couple of years ago. I cut it back, like you did your bottle brush. The roots were fine and now it’s magnificent again! It didn’t take long at all.

    Wait just a couple more weeks for the heat to come on. And keep us posted; this is a relatively new plant for us, so yours can be the test one.

  18. Linda, you read my mind. I cut it back – almost in half – and still didn’t see green, but I didn’t have the heart to keep going further. Decided to just leave it alone now and see. Couldn’t plant a new shrub/tree there until the Fall anyway, so it will have the spring and summer to let me know how it’s going to do. The bark is coming off the trunk at the base, which I’ve heard is not a good sign. It’s already sitting next to a Mountain Laurel that’s in great condition, so I don’t need another of those. But I didn’t know that Desert Willow could be ugly? Would love to know more.

  19. Yea, it doesn’t sound too good for your beloved but if you’re willing to be patient, I’ll all in favor of that. Bark splitting at base not a good sign at all. Polls out on desert willow: many adore them, many don’t, so it’s really up to you!

  20. It’s mid April now…any signs of green? I have several bottlebrush which I love! I also cut them back similar to how you pruned yours. The ones in groups shielded by a builing are showing signs of green leaves! They are about 1/3 green but still have all of their brown crispy leaves. I have 2 others close to my house that are not as shielded by the weather. They are still brown & crispy but one of them has green leaves shooting out on “1” branch at the top. Still nothing on the other one? I look at them about twice a day and am waiting for more signs of live! I was wondering how your bottle brush is doing? Any green?

  21. Cathy, the bottlebrush is growing small stems from the roots. However, given that the tree is 10 years old, it will take too many years for those pathetic little shoots to become anything. I’m considering it a total loss, and working on other ideas there. Gardening, right?

  22. My trees are 7 years old now so I hate to dig them up just yet! I will continue to watch them until summer. I’m hoping for the best. Keep me posted on your trees progress. It’s still early!

  23. Any progress on the bottle brush? I am having the same problem. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good pruning in the spring. More than half of mine is dead, and the bark is split. Today I went after it, and I had to cut more than half of it – not top to bottom half, more like the whole back 2/3 of it! I always loved the shape of it. It came with our house when we bought it 3-1/2 years ago, and I pruned it to look like a tree. What’s left of it looks pretty pathetic, but there is new growth from the roots. I’m really not sure if it will be beautiful again or if I should just replace it with something else. Now is the time to decide I suppose.

  24. Christy, the bottlebrush is definitely dead. I had a few shooters come up from the roots but you are right, it would never look good again. I loved my tree, too! I have now turned it into a vine trellis. Since it resides in the middle of a new bed I put in to show it off (right), and it is extremely visible in the front corner of my lot, I had to dress it up. This year was hyacinth bean vine, next year might be a more permanent climbing rose of some sort. How big is your remaining tree limb structure?

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