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Monday - August 24, 2009

From: Katy , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Declining wax myrtles in Katy, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My wax myrtle bushes were thick and green except for a few on the NE side 6 months ago when we bought the house. Now they are thin, leggy, and dropping leaves like crazy. They seem to be dying one branch at at time. No one could see into our yard. Now you can see everything! Please help.

ANSWER:

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle) is native not only to Texas, but to the area around Katy. We have had other inquiries about their wax myrtles looking bad, and we are not sure why. We sound like a broken record, but there has been so much heat and so little rain (even in your part of the state) that everything is suffering. Strictly speaking, the wax myrtle is considered a plant for lowlands or marshy areas. and will tolerate poor drainage once it is established, but does not tolerate extreme drought.  No well-established native plant being treated the same way in the same location should decline like that without a change in the environment. Possibly the previous owners were watering the plant more. About all we can suggest at this point is to get some water down to the roots. The best way to do this, if a little low-tech, is to stick a hose down in the dirt and let the water dribble very slowly until water appears on the surface, then move on to the next bush. Do this about once a week, and see if they start to improve. Don't fertilize, never fertilize a plant under stress. If the cool weather and even rains finally come back, you might consider doing some pruning, taking off some of the top branches as well as pruning out the dead ones, to take some of the strain off the water-carrying mechanism of the plant.

We did some research to see if there were any diseases that could be infesting your plants, and the only indication we found was that sometimes canker diseases could kill the plant. We found this website from the Nevada Department of Agriculture, Canker disease on ornamental woody plants. There are a couple illustrations and it is noted that the canker is an opportunistic disease, and will attack plants stressed by drought. 

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