Question of the Week: March 31, 2016

For several weeks, almost everywhere I go this time of year, I am asked:

“Neil, my magnolia is dropping leaves and they look terrible. What is wrong with my tree?”

Damage to this magnolia’s leaves isn’t as scary as you might think.

Damage to this magnolia’s leaves isn’t as scary as you might think.


The good news is that this is absolutely normal leaf drop. All plants drop their leaves annually. With red oaks, Chinese pistachios and pecans, it’s much more noticeable because they all fall at one time in autumn, and the trees are left bare.

Broadleafed evergreens like magnolias, live oaks, waxleaf ligustrums and hollies, however, shed their old foliage in late March, April and on into May. No one notices it on plants with small leaves like boxwoods and dwarf yaupons, but they certainly do notice with plants with huge leaves like magnolias. People get quite alarmed by the spotting and discoloration.

These are almost always the oldest leaves on the plants – those farthest from the growing tips where new leaves are produced. Those old leaves have been out in the elements for 10 or 12 months, and they’ve taken their share of sun, drought, hail, cold and wind.

Only call to action here is to rake up the leaves as needed, then apply a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer and water deeply. The trees and shrubs will take over from there.

Rejoice, gardener! This is absolutely normal behavior for these plants.

If all of our problems could only be that simple!

Posted by Neil Sperry
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