En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Manzanita struggling in CA

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

Thursday - March 01, 2012

From: Monterey, CA
Region: California
Topic: General Botany
Title: Manzanita struggling in CA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I live in Monterey, CA and I have had a manzanita (either Dr. Hurd or Mt. Hood) growing successfully in my yard for about 4 years. This fall all the leaves turned brown and brittle. I am not sure if defoliating the tree will give it a chance of coming back or if it is outright dead and needs to be removed. Any other help or ideas would be appreciated.

ANSWER:

We cannot tell you for sure without seeing it whether your manzanita is dead or not but there are a couple of things you can check.

Generally speaking, the fact that the leaves turned brown and brittle and did not fall off is a bad sign.  Leaf abscission is a normal process whereby a plant removes a part it no longer needs.  It physically separates the part which then falls off.  This happens annually in decidous plants and at regular intervals in evergreen ones as well.  The leaf changes color as the plant removes nutrients (and the green coloration) before separating it.  Usually if leaves turn brown and don't fall off, it means that the plant has died suddenly without performing abscission.  In situations of extreme heat or drought, a plant will often drop a number of leaves (and fruit) that it knows it doesn't have the resources to support rather than become overstressed and possibly succumb to insect damage or disease.

Time will ultimately reveal whether your plant is alive or not.  Keep it very lightly watered (it doesn't need much if it has no leaves to support).  If it has the resources to put on more leaves, the old ones will fall as the new ones emerge, but there is no reason not to remove them, if it keeps you from removing the entire plant prematurely.  You can also tell if the twigs are alive by bending them to see if they are supple.  If they are dead, they will snap off to reveal dry, brown centers.  You can also gently scrape off twig bark with a thumbnail.  If the layer below the bark is green, it is alive and the plant should bounce back.  If the ends of the twigs are dead,  prune them back a few inches at a time until you make a cut that reveals green wood at the core.  If you end up digging up the plant you can assess the roots; dead ones are black, living ones are brown with plenty of fine white hairs. 

Manzanitas Arctostaphylos manzanita (Whiteleaf manzanita) and their Texas cousin, Arbutus xalapensis (Texas madrone) madrones, are notoriously difficult to establish in a garden setting.  Like other members of the ericaceous family, they demand excellent drainage.  That is why they are often found thriving on hillsides in nature.  They are more likely to die from too much water than not enough.  After 4 years of encouraging it to grow in your garden, it will be a real disappointment to lose it so we're keeping our fingers crossed for you!

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas madrone
Arbutus xalapensis

Texas madrone
Arbutus xalapensis

More General Botany Questions

Is Esperanza a deciduous or an evergreen plant?
March 08, 2009 - I've read that Esperanza/Tecoma Stans is an evergreen. I planted one last year that seemed very healthy, but it dropped its leaves in late fall and looks (at least) dormant now. Will it come back o...
view the full question and answer

USDA Hardiness Zone of Rancho Bernardo, CA
October 01, 2009 - What plant zone is Poway, Rancho Bernardo CA?
view the full question and answer

Difference between Convallaria majalis and Convallaria majuscula
May 17, 2012 - How do you tell the difference in the native convallaria from the European species?
view the full question and answer

Why will my Butternut trees not produce nuts in Tennessee?
May 06, 2009 - I have 2 butternut trees planted about 20 ft from each other. I see the long blossoms on each tree but I have not gotten any nuts from either tree. I do not know if I have a male and female or if th...
view the full question and answer

Smog-eating plants from Ft. Worth TX
September 30, 2012 - Looking for a list (40 >) of Native Texas Plants for Fort Worth Urban (Condo) that are Drought tolerant or (drip irr) and Fragrant and long blooming and eat up the city smog. Fort Worth is in a non-at...
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