Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

“Why Are My Landscape Plants Dying?”

“Why are my plants dying?” A query that many are stumbling with is the reason for their landscape failures. In my 20 years of educational Landscape Consultations I’ve seen a great number of reasons why plants, shrubs and trees fail.

I’ve compiled my top 10 reasons for why your landscape is dying.

Plant without leaves and is dormant

1) They’re too old! 

Many people don’t realize that a whole host of plants and trees do in fact, have a shelf life. Just like people and animals, plants expire too.

Below is a tree I never recommend because it’s a short lived ecological nightmare. The Bradford Pear, Arizona ash, chinaberry, Tallow, Hackberry and Ligustrum are fast growing trees that live about 20 years and fall apart in every direction. Conclusion, look for hardwood, long life, non invasive trees and plants. Most plants live from 10-20years and native trees can live for 50 to 100’s of years. 

Trees that don’t belong in our region and die early

2) They Were Poorly Planted 

When it comes to Central Texas landscapes, technique is everything. Proper planting is crucial for success. A plant strait from the nursery came from idealistic settings to the rock, clay and sandy dirt we have here. The least we can do is give them a good start.

A proper mulch ring on a mature tree

The tree above and below were both buried too deeply and the base of the trees were/are covered in dirt and mulch. This will slowly kill a tree and you can see the damage at the ground level already. This practice damages the bark and creates root girdling.Tree that is over buried with too much mulch

Research proper planting, timing and watering techniques and use plenty of great compost, raised bed soil and shredded hardwood mulch.

The proper tree planting technique

Plants and trees should be planted in a hole twice as big as the container and a bit deeper. The root ball should be about an inch or two above ground level and mulched up to meet it so it all breaks down over time. Remember, “Plant it high or it will die”!

3) Inconsistent or Overwatering 

Have you ever watered a pot and noticed bubbles rising to the top? That’s oxygen being forced out of the soil, and we don’t want that. Water slow and low, allow it to absorb over a short time and dry between waterings. If you’re uncertain if you’re watering accurately, grab a handy soil moisture meter water meter like this one (below) for best results.

A water measure meter
The problem is that overwatering and under-watering can look the same. Plants in shade, full sun or in wind will all have different watering needs. Familiarize yourself with your yards over all needs and water as infrequently as you can get away with. Planting only native and adapted plants and trees will help a lot. 

A plant with dried ends from drought

4) Using Chemicals 

Chemical burns on shrubs

Stay away from colored mulches and chemical fertilizers like weed and feed or the blue stuff. Instead, use only local hardwood mulch, tons of rich, dark compost and organic fertilizers like liquid compost, liquid molasses, liquid seaweed. Also look for organic products like Garrett Juice, Ladybug Products, or Medina Hasta Gro, to name a few. 
Chemicals are not only harmful to the planet, animals, and people, but it’s been proven to be ineffective and more costly all around. 

5) You’re Making the Wrong Plant Selections 

In this case it’s pretty obvious they chose the wrong plant for the job. Placing a tree or plant in a space that requires unnatural shaping or damage from structures or passers by, only subjects it to potential injury or worse. 

Over sized plant for the space

If you have an enormous plant so close to the sidewalk to hide your utility boxes, be prepared for a life of maintenance. This is barely enough room for one person, not to mention the limited visibility when leaving your driveway.

Moral to the garden story, choose the right plant for the right space and you will both be happier. 

6) You May Have the Right Plant in the Wrong Sunlight. 

Xeriscape garden for shade

The garden above is deep shade. If you’re buying native sun plants for a low light garden, you’re never going to be successful. The same is true for placing shade loving plants in too much sun. You’ll find you’ll need to water more, have pest issues and a very unpleasant outcome.

7) Regularly Check for Diseases and Pests

Leave with fungal disease

Above is an obvious case of fungal issue and below is a festival of scale, mealy bugs and aphids. Catching problems early means you can treat organically in most cases. 

Mealy bugs and scale on a Crepe Myrtle Tree

8) The climate is changing

Like it or not, weather is getting more extreme. Our plants in Central Texas now have to survive temps from 10° to 110°. This is a lot to ask from a plant and it’s limiting what will be considered perennial going forward. 

Tree over buried with rocks

Remember that plants and trees planted directly in rock will be up to 20 degrees hotter than the normal soil temps. Always be mindful to leave a mulch ring around plants to better manage evaporation and root/bark damage.

9) Your Soil Needs Amending

Clay and rocky soil

Poor soil quality, Lisa’s landscape, Austin

The one thing you must do is compost, compost, compost! It’s really that simple. Compost all of your beds, trees and lawn to the depth of 1/4 inch and soft rake it in. Every time it rains your feeding the soil and the plant which is a win, win. 

10) Poor trimming techniques

Doubling back to poor placement, poor trimming can be a death sentence to some plants and trees and at the very least, in the case of this tree, the structural integrity is compromised. You can also lose flowering cycles and ultimately the natural shape of the plant you desired to have in the first place. Enlist an educated consultant like me to teach you proper maintenance and trimming techniques so you have better success over all. 

Improperly trimmed tree

So, now that you have a general direction on what to look for and where to begin, you can do your homework on your specific plants and solutions. However, if you find that some plants are more trouble than they’re worth after applying your knowledge, it may be time for a new selection.

If you would like a more detail from a knowledgeable, educated Landscape Consultant to help you with your landscape woes, contact me at lisalapaso@gmail. If you find you need a bigger picture, a low water Landscape Design may be a good fit for anyone seeking a low maintenance landscape.

Here are some examples of my work:

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