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
2 ratings

Wednesday - July 20, 2011

From: Boerne, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Watering, Shrubs
Title: Why did mountain laurel turn brown and die?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have (had) a lovely mountain laurel that I planted more than 25 years ago. Many times one or two branches would turn brown and I would trim them out. The shrub is about 10 feet tall and is many trunked. About 3 weeks ago, the leaves started looking droopy and dry then within three weeks the whole turned brown and is apparently dead. We have a terrible drought as you area is experiencing, however I wouldn't think the mountain laurel be damaged. Nearby plants do get watered. There are 3 or 4 seedlings under it that are 2 to 3 feet tall and still very green and healthy looking. I have not fertilized. Can you give me any idea what happened. I have not cut it down yet.

ANSWER:

You have already stated "why" your  Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel) died—it is, I believe, the extreme drought we are having.  Even though the mountain laurel is a native and generally considered to be drought tolerant, these are extreme conditions.  You can visit the U. S. Drought Monitor map to see that most of Texas is in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought conditions.  If you 'Google' the terms "trees Texas drought 2011", you will find links to lots of stories about the results of the drought on trees all over the state.  This article, Drought, Wildfire and Forest Health, by Joe Pase of the Texas Forest Service gives information on the effects of drought on trees and how to care for them.  Besides the direct physical effects of the drought on the tree, the stress of drought makes trees more susceptible to disease and pest infestations. To protect your remaining laurels you should water them.  When you water, the soil needs to get a thorough soaking—the equivalent of an inch or more of rain.  (The Texas Forest Service recommends 1-4 inches of water every 10 days.  Use a rain gauge or some sort of container under the sprinkler pattern to measure it.) This will insure the water seeps deep into the soil and will reach the plant's roots there and keep them from growing toward the surface.   Also, the roots generally grow out to at least the same distance as the spread of the tree—the drip line—so watering with a soaker hose at the drip line is an efficient way to get the water to the roots.  Be aware that it takes longer to deliver 1 or 2 inches of water using the soaker rather than a sprinkler.  Mulch spread around the tree can also help to hold in the moisture.  Here is an article, Mulching Trees and Shrubs, from North Carolina State University with good tips on mulching and here is an article from our website, Helping Plants Handle Summer Heat.  It is good that you have not fertilized—never fertilize while your trees under drought stress or any other kind of stress.  The article by Joe Pase (above) tells how to test to see if your tree is really dead and not just dormant and you certainly should try it.  I think, however, that your tree is probably dead.

 

More Watering Questions

Native New Jersey plants to remove iron water from Lawrenceville NJ
October 20, 2012 - Are there any native New Jersey plants that can remove iron water
view the full question and answer

Watering Oak Trees in the Summer
July 15, 2011 - Should you water oak trees in the summer? Some people say its not good for them. But many trees seem to be withering up and dying in this heat. Especially the black jack oaks. There are also post ...
view the full question and answer

Consequences of overwatering plants
February 05, 2010 - Explain how an error on the high side when watering would affect soil fertility management, IPM efforts?
view the full question and answer

Transplant shock in American beautyberry in Birmingham AL
July 13, 2010 - We created a new garden area in our yard that gets full sun in the afternoon. I had a Beautyberry Bush that had seriously outgrown the area where we originally planted it (also full sun), so I transp...
view the full question and answer

Recycling bath water from Austin
July 03, 2012 - Is using bath water going to hurt my plants or grass? If I use water from the bath on vegetables and fruits will the soap be absorbed by the fruit and/or vegetables thereby transferring to us when we ...
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
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center