En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - July 02, 2009

From: Grandview, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Pruning, Transplants, Shrubs
Title: Brown leaves on possumhaw holly in Grandview TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What would be likely causes for brown leaves on possumhaw holly? We have 2, one was planted in spring 2008, and a slightly larger one planted late winter/early spring this year. Most of the leaves are green, but both have a pretty good amount of brown leaves also, and have lost some brown ones.


Our research indicates Ilex decidua (possumhaw) does not have any significant pests or diseases. It is native to Texas, and likes our alkaline soils. According to the USDA Plant Profile on the plant, it is growing wild in Johnson County, so it is not trying to survive out of its territory. And if no one has been spraying broad-leaf weedkillers close to it, that lets that out. We suspect that since both plants are showing some browning, it is an expression of their displeasure at being transplanted in a really hot, dry year. 

We are going to suggest our prescription for transplant shock. First, determine if the shrubs are getting good drainage. If you have clay soil, you need to work some humus, like compost, into the soil around the roots, without disturbing the roots any more than is necessary. Then, to protect the roots from the heat and hold moisture in the soil, mulch with a good quality shredded hardwood mulch. Now, trim off 1/4 to 1/3 of the top of the plant, to reduce the leaves and branches the stressed roots need to be getting water to. Finally, 2 or 3 times a week, stick a hose down in the soil, and let it dribble very slowly for a while, to be sure the roots are getting the moisture they need. Individual brown leaves are not too worrisome, but if whole branches start to brown and die, there could have been some damage done to the roots in transplanting. Only time will tell if your tender loving care has rescued this excellent Fall color plant.

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua




More Pruning Questions

Problem with crapemyrtle shoots in Victoria, TX
May 13, 2009 - I have a problem with crepe myrtle shoots coming up in my flowerbed. I had to remove a large crepe myrtle tree (18" diameter stump) and digging out the stump was not possible. I killed the stump wi...
view the full question and answer

Trimming back freeze damage from Anacacho orchid in Liberty Hill TX
May 17, 2010 - When is it safe to trim back what I think is dead wood on my Anacacho orchid trees (that were hit hard this past winter)? Is there any harm done if I cut back living wood?
view the full question and answer

Flowers for days on end in California
March 30, 2012 - What are some plants or flowers that I can grow "all-year" in California?
view the full question and answer

How to prune my Linden tree?
June 17, 2009 - We have a 15 yr old Linden in the backyard. North side of home. It can use some pruning at the lower branches. Which branches do we prune and when? Also we have some river birches back there. Oth...
view the full question and answer

Tree removal from Austin
November 18, 2013 - Unfortunately we need to cut down a Spanish oak (11" diameter, over 50 feet tall) that is leaning against our upper story deck (if it falls, the roof, deck, and steel supports may be crushed). A lim...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center