How to Rescue a Plant with Yellow Leaves

– Posted in: How-to, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints

yellowing plant foliage

This ‘Josef Lemper’ hellebore needs help. I’m going to do my best.

Because my ‘Josef Lemper’ hellebore was turning yellow, I decided to contact my source for advice. This plant was sent to me to try out in my garden compliments of Skagit Gardens, so I contacted Rhonda Jennings, who sent me the sample, to see what she thought.

The best thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to dig Josef up and take a look. With your clay soil and heavy rainfall, I suspect you’ll find that the roots are in trouble. The symptoms are typical of an evergreen plant that has lost the ability to transport water and nutrients up into the leaves because the roots are damaged. Healthy roots should have light-colored, fleshy tips, not black ones. If you are able to catch it in time, potting it up in a container with fresh potting soil would be the best thing to help it recuperate.

Following Rhonda’s advice, I’m going to do just that.

partially dug up hellebore

Here you can see the hellebore’s roots are encased in clay soil.

If you click the image above to enlarge it, you can see growing points at the base of some of the stems. This plant hasn’t given up; it wants to live!
flower bud on Josef Lemper hellebore

Despite being stressed, this hellebore is still making flower buds. It hasn’t given up, so I’m not going to, either.

After digging the plant up, I brought it near the closest hose to be washed off.
bare root hellebore

The hellebores roots have been cleaned off. Can you see some blackened root tips?

Now it’s time to perform surgery.
black tip of unhealthy hellebore root

I trimmed off any blackened tips, such as this one.

I cut off blackened root tips, and if a root tip looked fine, but there was some black further up the root, I cut off the root so that the black part was removed. I also trimmed off any part above the roots that was black, such as bits of stem. And I trimmed off any leaves that were brown. Then I potted up ‘Josef Lemper’ in potting soil that did not have hydrogel granules or anything else designed to hold extra moisture in the potting mix. He is now resting comfortably on the porch.
plant with yellowing leaves in pot

Spending some time in the carefully controlled environment of a container with potting soil is the best chance for this plant to recover.

As Rhonda suggests,

When you dig it up and replant it, you should water it lightly to settle it in, then not again until the soil surface begins to dry. If you are still deluged with storms, you may want to put it under cover where it won’t be super-saturated again. Don’t fertilize until it shows signs of new growth. Then say kind things to him and wish him luck. He will either make it or not at this point.

Right now I have the container under the cover of the porch roof so it won’t get moisture unless it comes from me, and gets about a half day of sun. I’ll keep you posted on how he’s doing. In the meantime, the hot, humid, and rainy weather pattern has finally left us, and I hope all the stressed plants have a chance to recover.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donalyn@The Creekside Cook July 12, 2013, 7:55 am

Hoping the best for him – and this is very information for the future – thanks & pinning this!

Kathy Purdy July 12, 2013, 10:36 am

Thank you for pinning!

Alison July 11, 2013, 2:44 pm

I hope he thrives! Thanks for posting your photos of this process. I bet this would work for other plants that are stressed by too much moisture or root rot.

Layanee July 11, 2013, 2:29 pm

I do hope it responds to your TLC. I am going to look for an update in a couple of weeks.