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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.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - July 21, 2006

From: Leander, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Transplants, Trees
Title: Soapberry Transplant shock symptoms
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Please suggest a cause & cure for general yellowing of the leaves of Western Soapberry when planted in the ground 20 miles NW of Austin (thin, poor clay over limestone). Trees still in containers are fine. The yellowing is uniform, not specific to old or new leaves, and veins are the same color. The leaves are not "burned", curled or dying, just very yellow. It has been that way for months (since shortly after planting), with no visible change except to slowly become more yellow.

ANSWER:

Western soapberry, Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii is well known and much appreciated in some areas for its yellow-orange fall foliage. Your tree may actually be exhibiting a sort of early "fall foliage" response to the shock of being transplanted. It is likely to begin dropping many of those yellow leaves soon.

Actually, the loss of foliage now is probably a good thing as it is the tree's way of reducing stress caused by dessication. When a plant of any kind (even a container-grown one) is newly transplanted, the roots are inevitably damaged to some extent. The remaining roots are no longer able to meet the water demands of the top growth and the plant suffers what is commonly referred to as transplant shock. Removing some of the top growth by pruning at the time of transplanting (it's not too late to do it now) is the best way to reduce the stress to your new tree and help it become established more quickly. Giving the new transplant more water to compensate for the loss of roots is usually a sure way to kill the plant by "drowning" the roots.

It is possible that your tree is exhibiting a response to a soil nutrient issue, but that is not as likely. If the soapberry produces yellowed foliage next year, then you should suspect a nutrient problem. In that case, you might want to have your soil tested to determine what kind of soil chemistry issues you're dealing with.

 

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