Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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 - July 03, 2008

From: Tacoma, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Yellowing leaves in non-native Arbutus unedo in Washington
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in the Pacific Northwest and have planted 2 dwarf strawberry trees. I have been giving them lots of water. Their leaves are turning yellow. Am I watering them too much? Not enough?

ANSWER:

What's going on in Pierce County, Washington? This is the second question today from people who planted non-native trees there and now have yellowing leaves on them. So, let's address the problem with your Arbutus unedo, dwarf strawberry trees.

Because your trees are native to Ireland, southern Europe and the western Meditteranean, we have no information on it in our Native Plant Database. Instead, we went to this USDA Forest Service Arbutus unedo; these USDA sites are usually pretty impartial about discussions of plants and the locales where they can do well. The map of distribution of this plant showed a small area around Puget Sound where the strawberry tree can be found. Since that's where Tacoma is, we're assuming you're in the right place.

Yellowing leaves on a tree usually indicates chlorosis, or the loss of chlorophyll in the leaves, which makes them green. This happens most often when an acid soil-preferring tree is planted in an alkaline soil. The plant needs the trace element iron from the soil, and in alkaline soils the iron may be inaccessible to the plant roots.

In the West, many plants don't get enough iron because their roots are unable to obtain it from the soil. Roots may be damaged by a lack of oxygen in overwatered or poorly drained soils--typical after a rainy spring--or by extreme soil temperatures. High concentrations of limestone (calcium carbonate) make the soil more alkaline, which makes the iron less soluble. The information we found on Arbutus unedo indicates that it "tolerates" alkaline soil and clay, but "prefers" sandy, slightly acid soil. And, too much water around around the roots in a clay, poorly-draining soil may also harm the tree's capacity to utilize iron from the soil.

So, you asked if you were watering too much? Probably so. To help amend the soil to a more acidic nature and better draining texture, first, add some iron tablets to the soil. Then, trying not to damage the roots, get some organic material, cottonseed meal, etc., in the soil around the roots. Mulch heavily with an organic mulch like shredded hardwood. This mulch will hold in the moisture, help keep the roots cool, and decompose slowly, adding to the organic material in the soil, again helping to neutralize the effect of the clay soil. If, when you water, the water pools on the surface and remains for 30 minutes or so, you are definitely dealing with poorly draining clay soil. Taper off on the watering, and try to create a better-draining environment for the roots.

 

More Non-Natives Questions

Identity of plant at funeral that smells similar to honeysuckle
April 04, 2013 - What plant or flower smells similar to honeysuckle? I live in Ohio and I smelled some kind of flower or plant at a friends funeral last spring that smelled similar to honeysuckle. It was...
view the full question and answer

Invasive thistles in wildflower field from Dripping Springs TX
February 17, 2014 - How to get rid of "native" thistles.. I have a large natural field that used to grow a variety of wildflowers, but in 2011 and 2012 it was taken over by thistles. I'm sure they are "native" Texas...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification for shrub in Florida
September 03, 2011 - On our street we have ornamental shrub planted in the median that has small waxy green leaves, produces small fragrant white flowers, and red berries with white pulp and small seeds on the inside. Th...
view the full question and answer

Native plants of Rome
February 22, 2009 - I am researching the native plants of Rome but I can't get anything get anything else besides olives. Can you help me to find some more?
view the full question and answer

Replacement for non-native wisteria in Temecula CA
December 08, 2009 - We recently moved into a house that has a Wisteria bush that has taken over the patio cover. I wish to take it out because it is so messy and looks bad when it is dormant. I am trying to figure out ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.