Strawberry Tree - distressed, how to save?

david1116March 26, 2014

About two weeks ago, one of our strawberry trees has been looking really distressed. Leaves are slowly browning. Many are now brown. Branches still seem okay but are starting to feel like they're becoming less flexible and brittle. Attached a picture I took earlier today.

We planted the tree about 10 months ago. It was purchased in a 24" box along with two others. The two others are doing fine. One is flourishing. Trees have been watered once per week with other plants in our yard. The backyard doesn't get a lot of sunlight and the ground doesn't drain very well. Tree gets admittedly only one to two hours of sunlight each day, but no different from the other trees that are doing fine.

I think it could have been a pest issue. About a week ago, I saw two bugs that looked like they could be aphids or white flies. I sprayed the tree down about a week ago and I haven't seen any since. I've also treated it with Bayer Advanced Protect and Grow this past weekend.

Any ideas what could be affecting the tree?
Is it suffocating?
Anything I could do to bring it back to life?

Thanks!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i highly doubt its a bug issue ... their impact is usually leaf by leaf... not entire consistent discoloration across a large swath ... and it really too early in the season for a plague .. and two bugs is not a plague ..

and i rule out suffocation as it doubt its lacking oxygen

your words indicate you water by a schedule ... is it watered only when it needs it???

is it still in the box ...

pic of the whole might help ... as well as some close ups of buds ...

and whats the lowest temps in the last 30 - 45 days ... it looks like general cold damage to me.. and that insult could have been upwards of 30 to 45 days ago

there is nothing to do.. but insure proper watering.. by need .. rather than schedule ... and to give it time.. to see if it releafs ...

a scratch test will help indicate if there is any viable cambian layer.. just under the bark ..

this was overkill.. and an attempt to love it to death:

I sprayed the tree down about a week ago and I haven't seen any since. I've also treated it with Bayer Advanced Protect and Grow this past weekend.

for two bugs.. eh??? .. did the leaves burn after this???? ... if so.. the problem is chemical burn ...

ken

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 7:43AM
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jbraun_gw

Do you know the depth that the tree was planted? A lot of times when a tree was planted a year ago the the soil under the tree settled down leaving the tree to low. Are you in California? If so you just got through what was your rainy season this year. If the tree sat in a puddle of water it may have drown.

I replaced lots of trees for clients that were planted poorly.

I now raise bees so I would like to chime in against the Bayer product you used to kill the bugs. They contain a neonicitinoid that stay in the plant all year and poison all insects including pollinators like bees.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 8:12PM
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david1116

Thanks for the replies. @jbraun, I had no idea about the bayer stuff so I'll stop using it. I just tried it out of desperation.

Based on the comments, I do think it might be too much water. This part of our yard doesn't seem to drain as well and gets extra water from our neighbor's regular watering on the other side of the fence.

I assume it was planted properly bc it doesn't seem any lower than the surrounding ground? We have two others that are doing fine as well.

We did have a lot of rain a few weeks back and I think that started the downfall of the tree. For the last six months or so, I've tried to only water when necessary, sometimes going for two weeks or more without watering, which I did notice seemed to be helping the trees.

When I sprayed the tree down, a part of the trunk became exposed where it typically sheds and that looked healthy underneath so that's what made me
hopeful the tree is okay.

@ken_adrian, I'm in Southern California so it hasn't been too cold. The lowest it's been in the last few months would probably be in the 40s or 50s and the other trees are fine so I haven't assumed that it could be due to the cold. I was really trying to figure out if it was bugs so appreciate your comment. I didn't think two bugs would do that damage but was wondering if I had missed an infestation at some point.

Thank you both for your help

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 1:24AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"Based on the comments, I do think it might be too much water. This part of our yard doesn't seem to drain as well and gets extra water from our neighbor's regular watering on the other side of the fence. "

This.
I don't know enough about the prevalence on the west coast (someone else can chime in) but if this plant were in the southeast USA*, I can absolutely assure you this pattern of dieback is caused by a root rot like Phytophthora.
Even in a drier part of Socal, watering almost any Arbutus sp. once a week would be overkill. Yes, we normally have much more rain than you, but the summers of 2011, 12, & 13 had bad droughty periods. My arbutus were small and went weeks w/o water. I never thought once to water them. The ones sold in Socal will all be used to a completely dry summer and winters with rain more like once a month, not once a week.

* - and of course if it was one of the species already generally tolerant to conditions there, like A. unedo or A. X andrachnoides. Both of which I have (or had, depending upon whether this 25 yr. winter finished them off). Arbutus 'Marina' will croak anywhere with muggy summers. In a watered garden in SoCal, I'd avoid it...dry summer plants don't like to get summer water; the Quercus agrifolias at the Huntington are dying because of the irrigation water used for the summer-wet Camellia japonicas, Maddenias, etc. they shade.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Fri, Mar 28, 14 at 9:14

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 9:09AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"Anything I could do to bring it back to life?"

Almost certainly not.
I once managed to save a Rhododendron 'Jenny Tabol' that had almost complete dieback (though not as bad as your pic). But 9 times out of 10, trying to save them doesn't work. Once you see extensive signs of root rot, it's better to start over. Summer root rot has been the cause of death of a many a yellow rhododendron on the US east coast, anywhere south of coastal Maine. Even varieties thought to be resistant, often aren't. My 'Capistrano' was my largest rhodie at almost 4 feet when the whole plant died almost overnight. That variety is tricky even on the sandy soil of Rarefind nursery, where Hank called it 'Crapistrano'.

If you have others that are still alive though, you can replant them on mounds to avoid water puddling around their roots. In my silty soil, even a 3" mound can make all the difference. YMMV. On red clay I'd go higher like 6"-12".

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 9:20AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

I assume it was planted properly bc it doesn't seem any lower than the surrounding ground? We have two others that are doing fine as well.

==>>> good.. you seem to rule out temps .. but do keep in mind.. on my 5 acres.. i can have one tree affected.. and others.. not 10 feet away not so ... but i suspected cold probably was not an issue.. but did need to be ruled out ...

then its a root issue ... if there is catostrophic leave failure... and the issue is not above ground ..... then it is below ground.. and we move to root issues ...and those usually involve planting ... of which drainage is a prime consideration ..

but.. planting depth is but one factor ... refer to the link .. and lets discuss any variable.. that you did differently ... like amending soil ... adding fertilizer.. not properly dealing with clay or drainage ... watering on a schedule rather than when the tree needed it .... not unwinding circling roots .... not breaking up a giant wad of potting media that is highly divergent to your native soil ... etc ..

any of those variables.. can lead to the death of a plant ... but it doesnt surprise me.. it might only be one of three plants ... [perhaps it was on its way out from the moment you got it .... e.g. a ball and burlap that really had no root mass left after the grower dug it up ...]

when it is one of many planted .... that is where native soil and location add another variable.. and you already seem to be understanding that part .. now that you think of it ...

if you have a warranty.. use it... it wont be .. until you pull it out of the ground.. when you will find out.. it has no new feeder roots .. then.. for sure.. you will know its a root issue ... that the roots died ...

keep us posted ...

ken

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:34AM
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david1116

Of all the things on the link, the space is probably not ideal. The other two strawberry trees we have are in similar spaces though and doing great.

Of the three planted, this one never seemed to do as well and I could tell that the soil around it wouldn't drain as well as the other areas.

Here are a few more pics of the tree now. I've left it alone for now. Can't seem to tell if there might be a rot issue from the look of the base of the trunk.

At this point, should I be cutting these leaves or branches off the tree or just continue to leave it alone?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:05PM
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david1116

Another pic

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:07PM
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david1116

Another pic

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:08PM
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annzgw

Plants that I've lost to 'drowned roots' have had leaves turn yellow, then brown and half would always drop off. Finding leaves scattered on the ground was usually the first sign of something wrong.

Since you have a block wall I'm not sure how much of your neighbor's water actually reaches the tree, so I suggest you dig around the drip line of the tree and first see just how wet or dry the soil is.

One other thought, do you have ground squirrels or gophers? A shrub I pulled up last summer had a tunnel chewed right thru the center of the root ball!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:32PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"Can't seem to tell if there might be a rot issue from the look of the base of the trunk."

In most cases at least with rhododendrons (which are in the Erica family along w/Arbutus) there is no visible sign of oomycetic growth. There might be leaf spots, and there might not, if there are they can be caused by different species of Phytophthora. The only sign is the leaves dying in much the same way yours are. Leaf spotting is a sign of sudden oak death in Quercus, of course.

I am concerned about the wall; if nothing else the reflected heat could have warmed the moist soil even more than it otherwise would have; encouraging the root rot. If you're in the warm parts of SoCal like the inland valleys you would have wanted to find a more open, airy spot for any Arbutus. (or any Ericaeae for that matter)

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Sat, Mar 29, 14 at 18:39

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:38PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

'Plants that I've lost to 'drowned roots' have had leaves turn yellow, then brown and half would always drop off."

I'm certainly seeing those colors in his pictures, albeit a very dark yellow; and I can say from unfortunate very recent experience (I think at least one of my Arbutus is a goner) that the leaves just don't drop off Arbutus very easily, compared to most plants.

Which Arbutus was this?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:43PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

If it is drowning what functional foliage it has will help respirate out some of the moisture. I would leave it, but investigate the soil around the root system and see how moist, how compacted, etc. Was it planted with a lot of amendment? That is not recommended. Since it is in so much shade it needs less water than the other two. The shade itself also might be a long-term problem. My MIL planted one in a shady spot. The drainage is not a problem, but it's a sad, sad specimen.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:53PM
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david1116

Thanks for the additional suggestions. I dug around it over the weekend (not too deep) and the soil was pretty moist, so I just left it open so that it could hopefully dry better, clearing away all the leaves on the ground and other mulch. We don't have gophers in the area (at least as I'm aware), so I'm hoping that's not an issue.

We have some rain in the forecast this week. Since it seems that overwatering might be causing the problems, should I try to cover the tree or at least the ground beneath it so that the rain is directed elsewhere?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 1:07PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

If > 50% of the foliage looks like that, the tree is almost certainly dead.
Just focus on saving the rest by addressing their siting.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 5:06PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Oh as for whether the shade is a problem, of course that depends on which way this wall corner is facing...but the sun is pretty high in Southern California. Unless that wall is over 12' tall or there is something on the other side, I doubt it is getting shaded out. The trees must be at last 6' tall right? They can tolerate a little shade and might even prefer a bit in very warm climate. OTOH, if that wall is facing south, it could be cooking them especially if they are overwatered.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 5:12PM
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