It’s a common question we get this time of year! In fact, a customer sent us this picture.

Here are some things you can do to troubleshoot the problem: 

1. Pull the mulch back about 4″ away from the trunk of the plants, and make sure it is not more than 3″ thick. If more than 3″ thick thin it out.  

2. For newly planted trees and shrubs, check to make sure the top of the root ball is 1″ above ground level.   If it is at ground level or below the plant should be replanted higher. It should take 9 to 12 months to settle to ground level. 

3. It would be good to dig up the plant and see if the ground is holding water like a bowl and not soaking in. Lack of drainage will create root rot which will kill the plant. The roots will be brown, instead of white, and can be mushy. 

To fix this a drainage problem, 

  • dig up the plant and cut off all mushy roots and remove a large amount of soil out of the hole. Bring in fresh soil to re-plant in. Treat the hole and plant roots that are left with Captan fungicide.After re-planting add root stimulater to the soil to get the white feeder roots boosted and growing. They are the main ones that take in moisture and nutrients.
  • adjust irrigation length of time to allow only 1” of water to hit the plant. You can put some sort of container near the base of the plant and measure how long it takes your irrigation to add 1” of water to the container. That’s how long you should be running that zone. If you can’t adjust the time for that zone, then adjust how frequent you water. 

4. If you dig up the plant and find the soil is very dry, follow the instructions above to make sure you are getting 1” of water to your plants when you irrigate. If you checking and make these adjustments you should see a major improvement in your plant provided the root damage has not hit the point of no return. 

5. Do you have a dog ? If so make sure the dog (or a neighbor’s dog) is not urinating on the plant. With time the urine will kill the plant. Normally it starts on one side and moves across the plant. Or, has the dog laid on the plant or has somebody stepped on the plant and broken it up?  

6. Freeze damage often doesn’t show up until summer when the heat kicks in. Look at the base of the trunk or the stems close to the trunk. See if they have split open. You may see wood and no bark or bark torn away from the wood.  If this is the case, you will just have to replace the plant.7. If none of the above are the issue it would be good to get a soil test done 

  • The ph could be way off.
  • The lack of a nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) would indicate a fertilizer issue.

The soil test is done through the Clemson extension office located below the Cook Out in Lexington next to the magistrate’s office. It should cost $6 for the standard test. The test results will tell what needs to be added to the soil to balance the pH and n-p-k needs.