En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - January 16, 2014

From: Beaverton, OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Care for California lilacs from Portland OR
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi There, We live in the Portland Oregon area, so temps are moderate and winters are wet. We have several California Lilacs that are about 7ft in height and have created the perfect screen. Love these shrubs, but just noticed that on most of them (6 or 7) the leaves have started to brown and are now falling off (started to notice this all in late December). I also noticed an extremely strong fragrance coming from the shrubs (like a combination of cinnamon and alcohol but gone bad..hard to describe). I had actually thought it was a neighbor cooking for the holidays, but realized today it was my shrubs. I don't have a green thumb, so not sure at all what to do. Any thoughts on what might be causing this? My initial thought was verticillium wilt. It would be horrible to lose all 9/10 shrubs this winter. Any help will be GREATLY appreciated!

ANSWER:

We always like to begin by discovering if the plant in question is native to North America and also to the area in which it is being grown; in your case, Multnomah County, on the northern border of Oregon with Washington State. Since we had nothing with the name "California Lilac" as the common name in our Native Plant Database, we next searched the Internet on that name and got this page from Laspilitas Nursery California Lilacs referring to California Lilacs as Ceanothus spp. On that same search, we found this article from SF Gate How to Care for California Lilacs,  which used the same designation - Ceanothus spp. This usually means that there are several species of that genus growing in different areas.

So, we tried searching our Native Plant Database on Ceanothus, learning there are 26 members of that genus native to North America and 6 to Oregon. The one we chose to use as an example is Ceanothus sanguineus (Oregon teatree), which according to this USDA Plant Profile Map is native to Multnomah County. If you follow that plant link to our webpage on the plant, you will see that another of its common names is "Wild Lilac" so we feel we are on the right track. We have no pictures of this particular species in our Native Plant Image Gallery, so here are some pictures from Google.

We found no information in our own database on the symptoms you have described, but suggest you read the articles from SF Gate and Las Pilitas for some clues. We also urge you to compare the growing conditions in your garden with those described as optimum for Ceanothus. We did note in the Las Pilitas article that heavy watering and fertilizing are not recommended. Since we are gardeners, not entomologists, we suggest you contact Oregon State University Extension for the Portland Metro Area. Generally, these university extension programs are closer to the area and more knowledgeable in the conditions there. That home page also has a link to the Portland Metro Area Master Gardener Program.

 These people are trained, on-the-ground gardeners who may very well have encountered the very same problem you have. Either site should be able to help you diagnose the problem, and if it proves to be a pest or disease, give you guidance in treating it.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Shrubs Questions

Need small, fast growing trees for privacy screen in Buda, TX.
February 01, 2013 - Please recommend some small, but fast growing, flowering trees to plant along a western fence for privacy
view the full question and answer

Non-native red-tip photinias dying in San Antonio
August 20, 2009 - A 17 year old Red tip Photinia in a hedge shows signs of dying. The main stalks are quite large and offshoots from two of the stalks have brittle, drooping leaves. The center of the plant looks norm...
view the full question and answer

Need to identify Cherry laurel varietyin Bee Caves, TX
March 29, 2016 - I recently had cherry laurels installed in my yard for privacy. Unfortunately, the landscaper does not know what type of cherry laurel they are. The tag from the tree says Che-Com which to me might in...
view the full question and answer

Need a shade tree for an enclosed courtyard in Las Cruces, NM
September 24, 2012 - I HAVE A WEST FACING COURTYARD ENCLOSED WITH A 6' STUCCO WALL AND I WANT TO ADD A SHADE TREE. CURRENTLY HAVE SEVERAL MESQUITE TREES, DESERT WILLOW, CHINESE PISTACHE & VITEX TREES IN THE FRONT AREA ...
view the full question and answer

Desert Willow size question from Austin, TX
June 12, 2015 - Dear MSP, I have a desert willow named Edith. We got her from the CoA a couple of years ago for recycling our Chirstmas tree. She's doing well except her three little trunks are teeny-tiny. We wan...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center