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

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Sunday - August 16, 2009

From: Georgetown, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Wilting stems on beautyberry in Georgetown, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Last summer I discovered that a 4-year old beautyberry had one (of many) stems that died. Leaves on this single stem wilted and dried up. This year the same happened to two or three stems. The rest of the plant is fine, as are two other plants of the same age. Now a new (planted last November) beautyberry has two wilted stems (out of three total). Any idea what's going on? Plants are in mostly shade, light sun and get supplemental water. No evidence of insect infestation. Just sudden stem wilt!

ANSWER:

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) - a deciduous shrub, blooms white, pink May to July, berries in winter are important to birds, has low water use and requires part shade. It is native to Texas, but not to Williamson County, rather preferring moist woods, coastal plains and bottomlands.

According to this information in our Native Plant Database:

"The shrub may temporarily defoliate and lose developing fruit during periods of prolonged summer drought."

And what have we had, last year and this year but prolonged summer drought? There is also the possibility of some root damage, perhaps when the plant was placed in the ground. Or, it might have been rootbound when it was purchased, and no root trimming was done to permit the roots to get out of their round-and-round conformation caused by the pot restricting their growth.  At this point, there is not a whole lot that can be done about either cause. For damage control, we would recommend deep watering by forcing a hose into the soil around the base of the shrub and allowing it to dribble very slowly for an hour or so, once a week. If water pools on the surface when you do this, that probably indicates clay in the soil, which makes it difficult for a plant's little rootlets to access nutrients in the soil. You can begin to amend the soil by working some compost into the ground around the shrubs, and mulching with a shredded bark mulch. The mulch will protect the roots from heat, hold in moisture and, as it decomposes, add more organic material to the soil, assisting with drainage. 

Beyond that, trim out the dead or dying stalks, so the roots won't still be trying to get moisture to a lost cause. Don't fertilizer, no plant under stress should be fertilized. And hope for rain. 

Pictures from our Native Plant Image Gallery


Callicarpa americana

Callicarpa americana

Callicarpa americana

Callicarpa americana

 

 

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