Oklahoma redbuds in trouble

jrcagle(z7 MD)June 20, 2008


We installed two Oklahoma Redbuds in mid-April. We have had a better-than-normal rainfall this year, and they were doing great until we went on vacation this past week.

On return, I discovered that about 15% of the leaves were in the process of turning yellow or brown. The other leaves look fine -- no wilting or evidence of insect damage.

Any ideas?


Jeff Cagle

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The leaves appear to be showing signs of the tree's roots not being able to take up enough moisture

This can often happen, whenever this type of tree has been planted in a location where the soil or the planting hole drains too slowly, and when follows a situation where the rootball begins to have trouble; due to lack of enough needed oxygen for healthy root growth. Then once the excessive rains stopped, the tree could already have encountered a defict of leaf moisture, which will only be worsened once the soils dry out. Especially if no one is there at just the right time to ensure that the tree's root ball does not become completely dried.

If such a situation could have not possibly happened to your tree, then consider where the tree is planted and how well balanced it is with the size of its rootball mass.

I know it is often reported that a redbud tree can grow in either full sun or shade, but please consider that the Oklahoma redbud is an understory tree, which likes to grow on the morning sun side of a forest. It loves to have shaded roots while still be growing in an area where it can receive morning and mid-day sun. It is also a tree that does much better if it gets mid to late afternoon shade.

If your tree is planted in full sun, then once the rains stopped and the days became mostly sunny; while you were gone and could not make certain it got watered when needed, its leaves may have begun to show moisture lack stress, from the rootball still being not established enough and being too small to transport enough moiture to those leaves.

What to do now? make certain the planting area can drain properly; and then make certain to keep the soil around the rootball and at least an inch below soil level only slightly moist, nearly all the time. That is, until the first late Fall freeze hits.

If once beginning to do that, the tree still does not begin, in a reasonable time, to recover better; then consider setting up a shade cloth for it to keep the hot afternoon sun away from it until it can regain its vigor.

If the tree pulls through and looks pretty good just prior to the tree going dormant in the fall; then wait until the late winter, or early spring, just prior to flower bud break and transplant the tree to a location where it can receive morning and midday sun, while being shaded either by other trees, or a building from the no later than 2pm till 5pm sun each day.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 5:15PM
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jrcagle(z7 MD)

Thanks for the detailed reply. If I understand correctly, your analysis is that the tree received too much water initially, so that the roots did not develop properly; now in drier and hotter weather, the inadequate root system is unable to do its job.

Shade: As it turns out, the tree does get mid-afternoon shade; it is about 2-3 meters to the east of a large Leland Cypress windbreak. We didn't know about the shade requirements; we just lucked out. I'll try to verify the shade time tomorrow, keeping in mind that these are the longest days of the year.

Rootball: The rootball was in a standard size container from the nursery -- 5 gallon, I believe -- and we followed the directions concerning spreading out the roots.

Drainage: What I don't know about is drainage. Both are on a slope of about 20 degrees, so I would imagine that drainage is not a problem.

So my plan is to increase the water so that the soil is slightly moist to a 1 in. depth. I assume that I should not over-water lest the roots be inhibited from developing?

Jeff Cagle

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 10:47PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

any chance of a hail storm in the last month???

might just be transitory damage caused by such.. not becoming readily apparent until the heat sets in?????

i would ignore it...


    Bookmark   June 22, 2008 at 8:42AM
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lynettstoy(z6 Northern NJ)

I love my Oklahoma redbud, and I did notice that some of the leaves in your pictures show leaves with yellow cast, and the veins darker than the rest of the leaf. If that were my tree, I would make sure that it got a dose of Ironite, or its equivelent, as those are signs of iron, zinc deficiencies. If you have suddenly had very hot weather from coolish weather, some shedding may be normal, but it is the kind of situation you want to watch. You seem to have received excellent replies here, but I didn't see any comment on the deficiencies, something I know that I try to watch on all of my redbuds.

Happy gardening!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 12:19PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Our Oklahoma Redbud also has a few leaves turning yellow and dropping off. These leaves are the interior most, and are heavily shaded by later growth, and our weather has turned much hotter of late, though there has continued to be weekly rain. So in our case, I think it's just weather and shade. I also tend to agree that it looks like there may have been some hail damage, or perhaps a fungal spot disease if the weather has been wet/cool. Even if it is a fungal disease, it's not likely to be a major problem, and I wouldn't worry about it, unless it got much worse or on almost all the leaves, plus if it is fungal, the warmer drier weather will stop most fungal problems in their tracks.

On a side not, if you do want to fertilize, get your soil tested first, and if it is determined that you have a deficiency, please don't use Ironite. It has been analyzed to contain VERY HIGH levels of heavy metals. Things you don't want in your soil, and heavy metals that can be especially harmful to kids. I believe it is not allowed in some states for that very reason. Milorganite is equivalent and is tested for heavy metals. Just my opinion. That is assuming you need to add iron. Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 1:37PM
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