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
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


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.


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

Mulching tree root in San Angelo, TX
April 02, 2014 - San Angelo, Texas is in a drought stage. Will it help our trees to mulch the base of them?
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

Wintering Purple Coneflowers in pots in Springfield MO
August 26, 2013 - I have some 8 month old purple cone flowers in containers on my porch. They did not bloom this summer because they were seedlings when given to me. I can not put them in the ground. How can I keep the...
view the full question and answer

Need help with Wheeler's Dwarf Pittosporum
September 02, 2015 - We have about five Dwarf Wheeler Pittosporum plants. All of them are mature and were doing well. I was on vacation for a week or so and when I came back I saw of each of them is plant 90% dead. The d...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting a Texas redbud sapling
July 27, 2008 - I've just discovered a Texas red bud sapling (baby tree)that decided to grow next to our fire pit. Although there's no reason for us to sit around the campfire in 100 degree weather, I would like to...
view the full question and answer

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