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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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Sunday - April 08, 2012

From: San Angelo, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Problems with yaupon from San Angelo TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a 3-yr-old yaupon holly entering its 3rd summer. We have put store-bought wood-chips under the tree several times since it was planted. A plant has grown under the tree, possibly out of the woodchips. It looks like red clover--the stalk I brought in the house with me is 3 inches tall with a stem that is light at the bottom and turns reddish toward the leafy area. The leafy area is about 1/2-3/4 inches wide and includes 6 oval-shaped smooth-sided leaves that are a dark red or green. It is growning to fill in the space around the bottom of the tree. My husband likes it. I am afraid it will hamper the holly's growth. Any ideas on what it is? Also, this year there are a few yellow leaves on the holly. It is the first year it has had very many little white flowers, but they don't seem to be related to the yellow leaves. Are these leaves a problem and if so how do we get rid of them/the cause without harming the holly?

ANSWER:

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon) is ordinarily a very low care plant. This USDA Plant Profile shows it growing no farther west than Travis County. We have grown it very successfully in both Tarrant County and Washington County, but neither of those is east of Travis County, either. So, it could be that your soils in Tom Green County do not entirely agree with it. If you follow the plant link above you will learn that its preferred soil description is moist, well drained, sandy, loamy, clay, limestone, or gravelly soils. "Well-drained" is probably the operative word there. If you dug a hole for the plant and added no compost or other organic material and the soil is clay, it is probably not draining well enough to suit the roots of this low-water consuming shrub. The roots may be drowning, especially if it is receiving the same watering that the lawn is.

However, it is the wood chips that you have repeatedly put on the plant's base that draws our attention. If you are using chunks of wood, instead of good-quality shredded bark mulch, we suggest you read our How-To Article Under Cover with Mulch. Note especially that it is recommended that any mulch be pulled away a few inches from the trunk of a woody plant, such as yaupon. Also, be aware that one of the advantages of such a mulch is that it will decompose slowly and go into the soil to improve the texture, access to nutrients and drainage for the plant. A chunky mulch that is not organic, that is, has not been composted before being used, will still decompose but much more slowly and can pull nitrogen out of the soil in the process.

Although many things, including age, can cause yellow leaves, frequently it is the result of chlorosis. Please read this article from the University of Illinois on Chlorosis, which often is the result of nitrogen deficiency in the plant. We would suggest you pull off the mulch presently there and replace it with fresh composted shredded bark mulch.

In the process, clean out under the shrub. Mulch can shelter insects and weeds. Frankly, we have no idea what the plant is that you have pulled out from under it, but it is not contributing to the yaupon's welfare, no matter what it is. Pull it out, or cut it off as close to the ground if you can, and continue to do so. Whatever it is, it will continue to try to survive.

 

From the Image Gallery


Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

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