En EspaŅol

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?

Share

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Tuesday - August 10, 2010

From: Wimberley, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Soils, Transplants, Watering, Trees
Title: Failure to thrive of desert willow in Wimberley TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a desert willow. It is always, whether I water it or leave it alone, yellow/ brown leaves, dark spots on the leaves, losing leaves. now it looks sad and not very healthy. Can you please tell me how to fix it before it has a stroke?

ANSWER:

Chilopsis linearis (desert willow) is a desert plant, native to this area, and quite accustomed to taking care of itself in terms of water, soil, etc. as you will see from its Growing Conditions below, which mentions avoiding excessive water and fertilizer, and providing good drainage.

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.
Conditions Comments: Allow to dry out between waterings, as this will encourage more extensive waves of blooms. Avoid excessive water and fertilizer, as that can lead to overly rapid growth, fewer blooms, and a weaker plant. Prolonged saturation can result in rot. Won't grow as fast or get as large in clay soil but won't suffer there either. Can be drought-deciduous in some regions. Can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F."

What we don't know is how long the tree has been planted, when it was planted, and how the hole was prepared. The symptoms sound very much like transplant shock. If it was planted during the summer months, or has bad drainage so that water is standing on its roots, or has been overfed and overwatered, it simply can't take all that attention. It is used to desert soils, so the addition of organic material to the soil can cause problems for it. 

We are not plant pathologists, and can't say for sure what is wrong with your desert willow, but have the following suggestions, as seen in the Growing Conditions above:

1. Don't water until the soil feels dry.

2. Make sure it is in full sun, which we consider to be 6 or more hours of sun a day.

3. Don't fertilize it; never fertilize a stressed plant.

4. Trim away any branches that appear dead, and remove dead leaves. Discard those cuttings away from the plant, in case the brown spots are something fungal that could be re-transmitted to the plant.  By the same token, keep any fallen leaves or branches raked up and removed.

The plant is drought deciduous, so if it gets too dry, it might start dropping its leaves. It also grows naturally in water courses, ditches and streambeds, which infers deep sources of moisture to the roots. If the drainage around the plant is good, try deep watering, sticking a hose down in the soil and letting it dribble until water appears on the surface, but do this infrequently. 

From the Pima Co. (AZ) Cooperative Extension, we found this article that pretty well summarizes the care of a desert willow.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

 

 

 

More Watering Questions

Recommended irrigation schedule for Austin, TX
September 04, 2006 - With the very hot summer and the conservation of water so important, could you let me know what would be a good watering schedule? I am fortunate enough to have a sprinkler system so I can set my pop...
view the full question and answer

Powdery mildew hits Rock Rose in Round Rock Texas
May 05, 2011 - My beautiful Rock Roses have gotten spots of white fuzzy "fur" on their leaves in the past month. This is not something they have ever had before and I'm worried its some kind of disease. Is it so...
view the full question and answer

Ilex vomitoria Sufering from Drought?
January 19, 2012 - My Ilex vomitoria has always thrived. It is about ten years old. This fall, a portion of the leaves on the ends of the branches have turned yellow on the edges with green veining in the center. Othe...
view the full question and answer

Protection for plants against a Spring freeze from Easley SC
April 15, 2014 - Is there anything we can do to protect our beautiful spring gardens from the freeze tonight? (April 15, 2014)
view the full question and answer

Dry browning leaves on Monterrey Oak from San Antonio
August 08, 2013 - I have a Monterey Oak that was planted four years ago and was doing great until the last two weeks. It has turned brown and the ends of the branches are very dry and brittle. The root flare was cov...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center