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Wednesday - October 07, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Coralberry in Central Texas has lost leaves
Answered by: Jackie OKeefe

QUESTION:

I planted a coralberry this past spring. It seemed to be doing well, but then I noticed some of its leaves were missing. Gradually, all the leaves disappeared, from the top of the plant down. It is about a foot high, and it took a few days--a couple of weeks, I think--for all the leaves to be gone. Someone suggested that deer were eating them, but that's not it: mine is the only coralberry plant for miles around, and no deer is coming to my neighborhood just to munch on a tiny coralberry bush. When all the leaves were gone, I started to pull the plant up, but didn't. All summer, it was there but bare. Last week, when it got a little cooler and we had some rain, the leaves started growing again. I was hopeful that it would come back. Now the leaves seem to be disappearing again. What is it? Parasol ants? Leafcutters? What do you suggest? I live in 78744, the Dove Springs area. I put some bone meal in the hole and a little mulch around the plant when I planted it. What's up--any ideas? Ken S.

ANSWER:

If the Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) lost only leaves (not stems) this summer and you haven't seen any evidence of ants, then deer and ants may not be the problem at all. This summer has been so severely hot and dry that vulnerable young plants have taken a beating. First, let's see if the plant is still alive. Carefully scrape a little bark off of the stem, down toward the base of the plant. Is there green under the surface? If so, your Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) is still with us, and may recover over time. If not, chances are that it's a victim of the tough summer and the sudden change to extremely wet conditions.

If it's dead, try not to judge too hard from this experience. Once established, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) is plenty tough and readily spreads both underground and by means of the longs shoots that spring from the main stem. Over time, it can create a dense network of roots and stems, and the long-lasting berries make a nice display through the fall and winter.

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) is a woodland understory plant, so if this plant comes back or you try a new one, make sure the planting site doesn't bake in summer sun. The layer of mulch is very much the right thing. Since local soils tend to be high in Calcium-rich clay, you may want to avoid putting bone meal in the soil for this particular plant, since it has a low CaCO3 tolerance, and the high Phosphorus levels in bone meal would increase the soil pH.

 

 

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