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
1 rating

Wednesday - June 06, 2012

From: Rosanky, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Trees
Title: Overwatering Texas Mountain Laurel from Rosanky TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I just read your article in the Statesman about over watering Mt.Laurel. Now I know why my lovely 15 year old tree is dying. We put in new grass this winter and I watered too much. Is there any hope of it coming back even though the leaves are now completely brown? It died quickly, just about last week. Is there anything I can do to help the situation? I am so sad. Thanks for your help.


We would be surprised if a Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel) went down that easily just because of overwatering. If you follow the plant link above to our webpage on the plant, you will learn it needs very good drainage. It could be that something that happened 15 years ago, as in the initial planting of the plant, may be the culprit. First of all, rearrange your sprinkler system, if that is how you have been watering the grass, so that it does not hit the Mountain Laurel. If the plant was not put in a hole with dirt amended for drainage, such as the addition of compost, decomposed granite or sand to the native soil, the sudden addition of more water may be drowning the tree.

Next, determine if the tree is really dead, using the thumbnail test. Starting on a limb as high as you can reach, scratch a thin sliver of bark off with your thumbnail. If you find a thin layer of green beneath that bark, that limb, at least, is still alive. If there is no underlayer of green on the first limb, work your way down the tree. If you get clear to the base, close to the roots, without finding green, the tree is probably gone. While you are doing that, look around for caterpillars or webs, even wilted leaves, which could indicate an insect problem. If you find some green area, while other limbs do not have that green layer, start by pruning off those dead limbs. This will take some strain off the tree as a whole. Do not fertilize. It seems that gardeners sometimes think a good dose of fertilizer will cure anything, including lightning damage. Actually a tree under stress, which yours obviously is, should never be fertilized.

Now that you have discontinued the overhead watering (you have, haven't you?), water the tree by sticking a hose deep down in the dirt close to the roots and let the water dribble until water appears on the surface. Do this no more than once a week, less if we are getting regular rains (not likely!)

One more bandaid that you could put on the tree is to spread a good quality shredded hardwood mulch on the root area. About two to four inches is good, but not up against the trunk, where it could cause insect or fungal damage. This will protect the roots from heat or cold and, as it decomposes, improve the texture and drainage of the dirt.


From the Image Gallery

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

More Trees Questions

Non-native avocado trees in Rio Grande Valley from Austin
January 05, 2013 - I just read the article in the Austin American Statesman about growing avocados outdoors. Don't know if they grow here, but they certainly don't just grow in south Florida. I used to live in Wesla...
view the full question and answer

Brownish-gold worm-looking things on loblolly pines
May 08, 2015 - We have a large loblolly pine that each spring drops thousands of brownish-gold "worm" looking things (about 1/2 to 1" long). Do they have a name and what is their purpose?
view the full question and answer

Evergreen for privacy in PA
July 18, 2011 - We need to plant a privacy/sound barrier hedge/hedgerow and my husband says it must be evergreen. I am not familiar with which species would be native to our area and I just don't trust those big sto...
view the full question and answer

Identity of evergreen tree at Barton Springs in Austin TX
October 11, 2015 - I am trying to identify an evergreen tree at Barton Springs in Austin. It is growing on the south lawn overlooking the pool. It has needles arranged in a fan like shape and makes a kind of crown-shape...
view the full question and answer

Ornamental tree recommendation for California
June 15, 2007 - We live in Pleasanton, California and wish to plant an ornamental tree in our front yard. The tree will receive full sun, and the climate can get quite hot in the summer. A Japanese Maple would be th...
view the full question and answer

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