En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - June 09, 2010

From: Sunrise Beach, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Transplants, Watering, Trees
Title: Blackening of top growth of yaupon in Sunrise Beach TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


My question regards a Will Flemming yaupon which I am thinking may be within your scope of expertise. These were recently planted under windy conditions, then hit with a neighbors antiquated jet type yard sprinkler. Results were blackening of the top growth. Now, although they have been in the ground a while, I notice the top new leaves still trying to blacken out. Is this the result of too much water, or what? I have just recently been able to tweak the irrigation to put out 1-1/2 inches of water to a depth of 15 inches every third day, where before they were maybe being over watered by concerned housesitters. Thank you for any advice.


The "Will Fleming" is no doubt a trade name given to the plant by the industry, probably either a selection or cultivar of Ilex vomitoria (yaupon), which is native. Often, a plant that has been bred away from the true form is named after the horticulturist who developed it. Strictly speaking, this puts it out of our range of expertise, as we deal only with plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown; with cultivars and hybrids we don't necessarily know exactly what is going on. 

From the website Garden Pilot Navigator Ilex vomitoria 'Will Fleming' we extracted this information:

"Distinctly upright form, almost columnar in outline, unfortunately with time will pull apart particularly with ice and snow, a 12' high plant in my trials has splayed and become disoriented, suspect this is a large-growing (15' by 15 to 18') cultivar, male."

All that having been said, we knew from the minute we read your question that the problem is the water on the roots. Yaupon, any yaupon, needs good drainage. It is a good plant for Central Texas, adapted to our often dry, hot climate. Are you sure that amount of 15 inches of irrigation every 3 days is correct? If so, we're surprised everything in your yard isn't dying. That is way too much; perhaps it was just an error in measurements or maybe you meant 15 minutes. However, you probably have alkaline, clay soil, which does not drain well. Whether they can be saved or not, we couldn't say. It's very difficult to add humus, like compost, to soil to improve drainage after the roots are already in the ground. Here are our suggestions: (1) Do whatever you can to direct the water away from the roots of these plants. Our Native Plant Database page on this plant says it will tolerate drought and poor drainage, but it sounds like your bed has NO drainage. (2) Since you say these were recently planted and under windy conditions, they can be treated for transplant shock. Ordinarily, we recommend that woody plants such as yaupon be planted in late Fall or very early Spring, before the heat kicks in and while the plants are partially dormant. Trim off about 1/3 of the upper portions of these plants which, with the reduction of water on the roots, may allow the roots to simply get water up to the top leaves so they can continue to manufacture food for the whole plant. 

If that doesn't work, and the plants do die, we suggest before you put any plant back to replace them, you prepare the beds, perhaps raising the level with lots of compost dug in, don't plant them until Fall, and careful with the water. 




More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Browning leaves on Ilex vomitoria in Houston
July 02, 2009 - Houston, we have a problem!!! I have a number of yaupon bushes that have been in my yard for years that have a large number of leaves turning a solid dark brown color. Any ideas of the cause?
view the full question and answer

Shasta Daisies without Petals
August 21, 2014 - My shasta daisies do not have the white petals, only the yellow center is in bloom. There are no visible signs of insects. They get a good amount of sun - about 5 hours per day. What could be the prob...
view the full question and answer

More on oak problems in Carrollton TX
April 04, 2011 - Thank you for answering me, I will contact a specialist to see if we can determine the cause. but since writing you we have pulled down a small twig to see the leaf more closely, it is more of a reddi...
view the full question and answer

Elaeagnus sudden death in Waxahachie, TX
May 11, 2015 - I live in North Central Texas and have eleagnus planted along my fence in full sun. Last year one dropped all it's leafs and died. The same is happening to one beside it this year. I have sprayed ...
view the full question and answer

Brown spots on native oak trees
June 16, 2015 - Hi, My native live oak trees are declining. The leaves have small brown spots that increase in size until the leaf dies and falls off, then the branch and then the entire limb. I have not watered the...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center