Ocotillos as well as other desert plants use their energy very wisely since wasting limited desert resources will result in death.
The first concern of the Ocotillo is to take its’ energy and put it into a new root system. It may even flower without ever putting out leaves. Last would be adding leaves. The leaves are not needed for photosynthesis but do give a boost of energy. Keeping the leaves requires a lot of energy for the plant as well. A healthy plant in the desert might grow and drop several sets of leaves each year depending on the rain that falls.
Once the root system has started and the first leaves appear they may still drop or not fully develop if the plant senses it can not support them. The more established the roots become the longer the leaves will stay. This process can take 60 days to one year.
As long as the canes are flexible and have some green the Ocotillo is ALIVE. Give them a fighting chance before deciding the worst, pulling them out and having to start all over again. If you have had your ocotillo for several months and it seems flexible but just has never leafed out, you may decide to take drastic action to force the point. Place your hose at the plant and fill your shallow water well, running just enough water to keep the well full for two or more days. This a a bit of a gamble as it could be kill or cure. If your plant has developed a root system but just never could get ‘over the hump’ to produce leaves, your extra watering might force the plant into leaf. If the ocotillo is dead anyway, all you have lost is a few gallons of water.