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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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Tuesday - November 17, 2009

From: Bertram, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Shrubs
Title: Leaf loss on Cenizo in Bertram TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I need help with a purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) problem. Most of one of my plants started having paler, more greyish leaves, then the leaves began to fall off. It seemed to still look healthy at the tips and it still blooms, but now has very few leaves on most of that plant. Now my healthiest sage is starting the same thing. We have great drainage, do not overwater, and I see no clear evidence of insects or scale. I have photos I could send if needed. Thanks

ANSWER:

We really can't diagnose difficulties with a plant that we can't see; sometimes we can't do it with plants we CAN see. So, we want to offer some ideas on what might be going on with your bush, and you might be able to figure it out or stop worrying about it.

First, the Cenizo will tolerate part shade, but really prefers full sun for at least 4 to 6 hours a day. This is a very tough desert plant, and you need to avoid coddling it. It doesn't like compost, fertilizer or overwatering. It does like alkaline soil, and can grow in pretty difficult circumstances. If you are being too good to your Cenizo, cut it out. Another thing is that it is referred to as "semi-evergreen" in some research sources. You know how live oak trees are considered evergreen and suddenly, about March, they dump most of their leaves and then grow back some fresh ones? That might be what your plant is doing, as well. Finally, our favorite reason to give when something is different about a plant in Central Texas is that we have had really weird (even for Texas) weather for the last two or three years. The species has seen all this before, and has its own defense mechanisms built in. You might try a little tip pruning to encourage the shrub to thicken up, as it can become loose and leggy otherwise. 

In summary, we don't know what's wrong with your plants; on the other hand, we're not sure there is anything wrong with them. Give them some time, but don't give them anything else, like fertilizer or too much water. Every plant needs some down time, a little dormancy, and that could be what you're seeing. 

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Leucophyllum frutescens

Leucophyllum frutescens

Leucophyllum frutescens

Leucophyllum frutescens

 

 

 

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