Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

Thursday - August 20, 2009

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Non-native red-tip photinias dying in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

A 17 year old Red tip Photinia in a hedge shows signs of dying. The main stalks are quite large and offshoots from two of the stalks have brittle, drooping leaves. The center of the plant looks normal and healthy; other leaves on the plant show no signs of fungus or insects. Although we are in a severe drought, we have carefully drip irrigated the entire hedge and this is the only plant that shows these signs. I am greatly concerned because the same situation occurred in one of our other Red tips last year and the whole plant ended up dying. Can you identify the problem and what can we do to arrest this problem? Many, many thanks.

ANSWER:

For openers, the red-tip photinia is 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. Unfortunately, the red tip photinia has been widely overused because it is cheap, fast-growing and the red leaves in the Spring are quite attractive. As it happens, the fact that your plants lived 17 years is a tribute to your care for them. 

In this Mississippi State University Extension Service Red-tip Photinia Almost Eliminated, you will likely find out why your plants are not prospering. 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."

Cotton Root Rot is also responsible for the loss of many ornamental plants in clay soil, and photinias are especially vulnerable. An article by Lynn Rawe from the Texas A&M Home Horticulture site describes the symptoms. There is no cure.

We're sorry that we can't give you the name of a spray or fungicide that would cure these plants, but we're afraid there is no such panacea. If the seemingly inevitable happens, try replacing the plants with plants native to Central Texas. If and when the photinias die, remove them and dispose of them in such a way that whatever disease has killed them will not be readily able to spread to other plants. Then incorporate compost or other humus into the soil, digging and mixing it deeply, and raising the bed, again to improve drainage. Don't try to plant new shrubs until late Fall, so they won't suffer from heat shock. Mulch them with shredded hardwood mulch, which will help keep the roots cool (or warm) and, as it decomposes, add still more organic matter to the soil, and keep this mulching up.

 

More Shrubs Questions

Shade Trees for Flagstaff AZ
June 14, 2015 - I live in Flagstaff, AZ and in need of good shade trees all around the house. We live in the Doney Park area (east of Flagstaff) and it is very windy in the spring time. We need the trees for priva...
view the full question and answer

An evergreen, deer-resistant shrub for Memphis
July 24, 2013 - I need an evergreen, deep to partial shade, deer resistant shrub or tree. Does such a plant exist?
view the full question and answer

California plants poisonous to dogs from Sacramento
July 01, 2012 - Found dodonea viscosa purple. Is it poisonous to dogs? Also Gold Star Potentilla. Going drought tolerant and need small trees, shrubs and plants not poisonous to dogs for sun and partial sun.
view the full question and answer

Rejuvenating an old Wax myrtle hedge
February 15, 2016 - I have 8 wax myrtles that were planted about 9 years ago as a screen from our neighbors. They are about 12 feet high. During the past 9 months they are getting thinner and thinner. Two of them hav...
view the full question and answer

Identification of bush/vine with purple berries
August 09, 2014 - I was clearing fence line and came across this plant it looks like a Bush but underneath grows like a vine it has long broad leaves that reminded me of Polk salad but it grows berry clusters the berri...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.