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Sunday - June 01, 2008

From: Pasadena, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Problems with non-native Cleyera and Red-tip photinia
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I planted a row of Cleyera in a bed that receives sunlight for about 3 hours during the middle of the day. My problem is that a number of the plants are dying. It begins with the leaves on one small branch dying and continues to spread to the other branches until an entire branch is dead down to the ground. This process continues until the entire plant is dead. I have treated the plants with fungicide, flooded the soil with a concentrated mixture of Captan and water, sprayed for insects and nothing seems to help. I had the similar problem with red tips in this bed. I replaced them with Cleyera hoping to resolve the problem. It appears that I have a soil problem but have no idea where to start. Any help will be appreciated.


For openers, both of these plants are non-native to North America, originating in the Far East. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we are committed to the planting, protection and propagation of plants native to North America. Native plants are recommended because they are adapted to an area's soil, rainfall, heat (or cold), and so require less water, less fertilizer, less maintenance. We're not saying that your plants are suffering because they're non-native, necessarily, but that choosing the right plant, in advance, can save you a lot of grief and probably money because of lost plants.

In this Mississippi State University Extension Service Red-tip Photinia Almost Eliminated, you will likely find out why your first choice did not live. Here is a quote from this article:

"Red-tip is highly susceptible to the fungal pathogen known as Entomosporium that causes leaf spots and ultimately defoliation. The disease has all but eliminated Red-tip from the list of recommended shrubs for Southern landscapes. In fact, the disease is so widespread that one plant pathologist jokingly explained that there are two types of Red-tip, those that have the disease and those that are going to get it! So, even though newly planted Red-tip bushes may stay disease free for many years, ultimately they will succumb to the inevitable."

On to Cleyera, the present occupant of your flower bed. University of Florida Cooperative Extension site on Ternstroemina gymnanthera (cleyera) will tell you there are no major pests or diseases of this plant. It looks a lot like the Red-tip Photinia and would seem a likely choice for replacement. However, this site also says that Cleyera requires acidic soil for best performance, dislikes hot, dry, sunny afternoons. It also points out that over-watering can cause root rot and black spot. So, with all your spraying and drenching, you appear to have been treating problems that did not exist, and perhaps causing some of the problems you are having. The plant apparently did not need all those fungicides and pesticides. Cleyera needs good drainage, and does not tolerate alkaline soil well. We don't know what kind of soil you have, but if it is clay, the drainage is probably a problem.

Frankly, we would start over. If your bed is not right for the plant, no amount of treatment is going to change that. We were unfamiliar with the use and toxicity of Captan, and found this website from the Extension Toxicology Network. It would appear that it has minimum toxicity and breaks down in the soil in less than 10 days. This is not a good time of year to be planting new woody plants, so how about this? Stop all the spraying and treating. Trim off branches that are dead or dying, and dispose of them in a way that any problems with them will not infect other plants. Try working some compost into the soil, and mulching the roots with shredded bark mulch. Both of these will help with drainage. If you water the plant, check to see if water stands in the soil for more than 30 minutes; that will mean the soil is probably clay and not good for drainage. Don't fertilize, never fertilize a plant under stress. Avoid watering from overhead, as with a sprinkler system. Then when Fall comes, with more appropriate planting weather, if the plants are not improving to suit you, consider taking them out, and working quite a lot of compost into the soil. This will improve drainage and help to minimize the effect of too much alkalinity if, indeed, that is the case.

Then, we urge you to select replacement plants that are native to Texas and should do well in your part of the state, Harris County, south of Houston. We are going to go both to East Texas and South Texas, as you are on the borderlne between them, in our Recommended Species section, select on shrubs for habit, perennial for duration, sun 2-6 hours a day for light requirement. Since we don't know how moist your soil is, we will leave the selection for soil moisture blank. You can do the same thing and make selections of your own in the same way. You will need to read all of each webpage linked by the Latin plant name, in order to see if it fits your preferences. Some of these are evergreen and some deciduous. We suggest you try mixing them up, instead of all the same plant. Then, if you decide to replace your plants with natives, go to Suppliers on our website, type in the name of your town and city in the "Enter Search Location" box, and it will give you a list of native plant suppliers in your general area. You can contact them by phone or website to determine if they stock the plants you are interested in.

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) - evergreen

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush) - evergreen

Malpighia glabra (wild crapemyrtle) - semi-evergreen, probably evergreen in south Harris County

Pavonia lasiopetala (Texas swampmallow) - semi-evergreen, pink flowers from April to November

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) - deciduous, rich, red berries, loved by birds

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle) - evergreen, fragrant foliage

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) - deciduous, coral pink berries remain on plant in Winter

Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum) - deciduous, distinctive purplish-pink autumn foliage

Ilex vomitoria

Leucophyllum frutescens

Malpighia glabra

Pavonia lasiopetala

Callicarpa americana

Morella cerifera

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Viburnum acerifolium



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