Question of the Week Number 2: April 19, 2018

“Neil, what is wrong with my shrubs? They looked good a few weeks ago and now they’re dropping masses of leaves.”

Folks are really quite nervous when they see their hollies dropping so many leaves. But the great news is, this is not a problem! It’s absolutely normal!

Nellie R. Stevens holly is shedding last year’s old leaves to make room for vigorous new spring growth for 2018. You can see that the leaves that are yellowed are farthest down the small branches.

Examine your plant, and you’ll see that the leaves that are yellowing, then falling off are old leaves – last year’s leaves. This is the way that they shed their old foliage. They wait until new spring growth is there, ready to take over their duties, then they drop to the ground.

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Some years it’s more dramatic than others, and some years it’s later than others. It’s going on across much of Texas right now. Recent storms with high winds have accelerated the pace.

Even yaupon hollies are shedding their year-old leaves now. All of this is completely normal and no cause for concern.

Live oaks are usually first (generally late February in South Texas and into March in North Texas). Ligustrums, Indian hawthorns, gardenias, aucubas, Asian jasmine, purple wintercreeper – they all drop those old leaves.

And then come the southern magnolias. My first calls and written questions say “What’s happening to my magnolia’s leaves?” This is usually in February and March, as the leaves start to look really beaten up. Then it all becomes obvious as those leaves turn yellow and drop to the ground. It reaches its peak in late April and May.

Net result…
There is no call to action and no cause to worry. You simply need to follow your regular feeding and watering schedule and your plants will be fine.

Apply an all-nitrogen lawn fertilizer (half or more of that nitrogen in slow-release form) to your shrubs, evergreen trees and groundcovers. Repeat every couple of months. Water deeply and regularly to keep the plants growing vigorously until they run into hot weather dormancy.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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