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Monday, July 29, 2013

Bottle Tree Dropping Leaves Could Mean Trouble

Q. My Australian bottle tree and African sumac are shedding leaves like a maple tree during fall.  However, they are also putting on new growth.  I specifically chose these trees because they remain green all year long. The bottle tree is about 20 ft. tall, on the north side of the house and gets about 20 gallons of water every day during the summer.  The sumac is on the west side and is about 12 ft. tall and gets about the same amount of water.  I’m about ready to cut them down due this leaf shedding. Were they stressed during the heat wave or what?

A. These two trees have very different watering requirements. The bottle tree is a true desert adapted tree while the African sumac is not. Their watering needs are very different for this reason.


            The bottle tree should never get daily watering. Even though the watering needs of the African sumac are more frequent, it should not get watered daily either. It is possible that these trees are dropping leaves excessively because their roots cannot “breathe” due to excessive moisture in the soil.
Bottle tree in desert landscape
            At the most, the sumac should get watered deeply twice a week right about now. The bottle tree less often than that but when it does get water it should be deeply as well.

            Evergreen trees do drop their leaves. No plant is without leaf drop. Some keep their leaves longer than others.

            Normal leaf drop time for evergreen plants is during or shortly after new growth. As they put new growth and new leaves on new branches they drop older leaves from older wood. This is normal. However, excessive leaf drop is not. This can indicate stress ranging from drought to overwatering.

            Please get on a deep and infrequent watering schedule rather than a daily one. This time of year the only things watered daily are fescue lawns, annual flower beds and vegetables. The larger the plant, generally speaking, the deeper the root system, the less frequent the watering but the amount of water applied each time is higher.

            Frequent, shallow irrigations force roots to grow shallower and decrease their tolerance to droughty conditions. Both of these trees can develop root rot from frequent watering and death. Excessive leaf drop can be a sign that this is happening.


Bottle tree in lawn
            I would begin to back off to watering every other day for right now but increase the amount you give them each time you water. Both can handle the heat but not daily watering, particularly the bottle tree.

            Make sure the applied water is distributed evenly under the canopy either by having several drip emitters under them or watering them in a basin and flooding the basin. The water should not be applied in one location under the canopy. Back off on the daily watering. I hope they are not in stages where you can keep them from getting worse.

24 comments:

  1. I am entering this from an email that was sent to me. Please feel free to contact this guy. He is an Aussie and has a lot of experience with bottle trees.
    Att: Bob Morris…That was a great answer to the Bottle Tree query about watering.

    I grow Bottle trees……I am happy to assist with any queries you may have with Bottle Trees.

    My site is: www.bottletrees.info

    Regards, Doug Sowerbutts.

    Bottle Tree Plantations
    PH: 0412 222 535
    Email: dougs@halenet.com.au
    Website: www.bottletrees.info

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    1. When do I need to fertilize the bottle tree and how often ? And with what fertilizer?

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    2. It is really no different from other nonflowering trees and shrubs. Fertilize during the month before new growth begins. Keep fertilizers away from the trunk at least 24 inches on small trees. Placing fertilizer or manure too close to the trunk can cause leaf drop, damage to the tree and even death in extreme cases. Fertilizing once a year is enough. If you do not know your soil or conditions use fertilizer with all three numbers the same on the bag such as 16-16-16 or 29-20-20 or 10-10-10, something like that. Because it is not a tree that we grow for its pretty flowers you can actually have a higher first number, lowest middle and high last number. Examples might be 20-5-10 or 16-6-8 or 21-7-14. But any fertilizer with numbers that are high-low-high.

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  2. Getting brown spots on the leaves of my Australian Bottle.These are round and leaves can have multiple spots. Is this a fungus?

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    1. You did not say where you live And this could impact the answer to your question. If you are in a very dry, desert climate we can probably eliminate disease problems on the leaves. If you are in a wetter climate than this is a possibility. This is a plant that originated in a dry climate and growing them in a wet climate may introduce some disease problems to them which they have never encountered. This means that a natural defense system was not selected for during its evolution. If this is in a dry climate such as Las Vegas then this is less likely. If this is in Las Vegas with a very alkaline soils it is possible it is a nutrient deficiency such as iron. Iron deficiency will manifest itself differently on different plants. The usual symptom of iron deficiency is the yellowing of leaves on the newest growth. On some other plants like eucalyptus this deficiency shows up primarily as leaf spotting. I guess I am recommending that you consider this might be iron deficiency and apply a good iron chelate to the soil in the very early spring just before new growth begins. The best iron chelate for this is iron ED DHA since it is effective at any soil pH unlike some other chelates.

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    2. I live las vegas , I have 3 bottle trees and the one in the middl it's leaves are turning Yellow. ...is it shedding because it's to hot or dying?

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    3. I doubt its dying but check out the things you can like look for plugged drip emitters or the middle tree is not getting enough water. But bad drainage can also cause this where water sits there in the soil around the roots and doesnt drain easily. They dont like wet feet. If this is a problem then auger or dig holes three feet deep vertically about three feet from the trunk and leave them open or fill them with coarse gravel for drainage.

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  3. My Australian Bottle Tree in the middle of my yard some of the leaves are turning brown and shedding is this normal? I live in Las Vegas

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    1. Most likely it is a lack of water. As trees get larger they need more applied water. If the tree is being watered with drip emitters, add more emitters. To see if this is the problem take your hose out there and let it run a slow trickle around the tree for several hours. Do this once a week for three or four weeks. If this is the problem you should see a flurry of new growth. If desert trees are not getting enough water they will usually start dropping their leaves. A good indicator of a desert tree not getting enough water is a canopy that is sparse. If a lack of water continues, there will be more leaf drop. If it continues further there will be branch die back. If watering this tree with a hose at its base gets it to respond then you need to add more drip emitters. Hopefully this tree is not being watered every day. That would be a mistake. This tree is from the dry Australian outback and requires deep watering infrequently.

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    2. No it's not normal. This usually indicates it's not getting enough water. Make sure you are not watering daily. Watering once or twice a week should be enough. Make sure you have enough drip emitters to support your tree. As trees get older and bigger, you need to add more emitters. Try running a hose out to your tree and put a sprinkler on the area lightly and see if the tree perks up. Another method is to get a device like a Ross root feeder, connected to a hose and stick it in the soil at several locations two or 3 feet from the trunk and inject water into the soil and see if the tree begins leaving out. If the tree is not getting enough water the leaves will drop and/or scorch and drop resulting in a thinning of the canopy. If this continues you will see branch die back. It is important to water this tree with a lot of water at one time and then hold off watering it again.

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    3. I been watering every day 30 minutes 2 times a day ..i don't know what to do ...its on a irrigation system it's 108 outside

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    4. Stop! if you keep watering it like that you will rot the roots! Let the roots breathe air or they will die of suffocation. It is like you underwater too long.

      It really has nothing to do with time...30 minutes...it is has to do with the volume of water you are applying and how often. How many gallons is 30 minutes? What area under the tree is watered? Should be AT Least half the area under the canopy. FOR SURE watering twice a day is way too often. This is a desert plant and watering once a week is about right. BUT the soil should get lots of water all at once and then hold off a week and water it again.

      Think of watering like filling a gas tank on a car. Plants withdraw water from this gas tank until the tank is half empty. Then its time to fill it again.

      The size of the gas tank is how far the roots grow out from the trunk and how deep they are.

      Your tree should have four drip emitters if it is small, eight or more if it is large. They should ve spaced two feet apart and water the area under at least half of the canopy. You probably have your irrigation set at 30 minutes. Put large enough drip emitters so that water from them penetrates in the soil 18 inches deep in 30 minutes. I cant tell you want size it is but I would guess it is maybe 5 gallons per hour emitters. In 30 minutes this gives the tree about 2,5 gallons. Running it twice in one day gives it 5 gallons for each emitter. If there are 8 emitters then it is 40 gallons total each time it is watered. Now we have volume, not minutes!

      Wait AT LEAST three days before you water again (and the gas tank is half empty). Then run it again the same amount. If you are not sure if it is wet or not, buy an $8 moisture sensor from Lowes and push the tip into the soil about two to three inches and read it. Water again when the moisture sensor is in the center (not wet and not dry). That should get you started.

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  4. I also live in Las Vegas and have a line of about 10 bottle trees. They were all planted two years ago and have been doing great. I was out of town for several weeks and just switched landscapers a month ago. When I got back I noticed that these trees have a lot of leaves dropping (not yellow, but brown and dry and dropping). The temperature a few weeks ago was in the mid 80s F and over the past two weeks the temperature has gone as high as 110 F. I believe my new landscaper just fertilized as well. I have a watering system that goes on for about 8 minutes daily. My landscaper insisted that its normal for leaves to drop due to the summer season, but I do not remember this from a year ago. There are also some other bushes that are struggling. I am assuming there is a lack of water getting to the roots....thoughts?

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  5. No,it is not normal if it's getting enough water.

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  6. Hi. I also live in Vegas. My sister and I both have established bottle trees. Every year that we have those couple of weeks of extreme weather, our trees drop a bunch of leaves. I believe it is a reaction to the stress of the extreme heat. They always seem to recover. Just saying.

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    1. Thanks Carla. I was hoping this blog would be interactive and comments like yours are shared so everyone benefits.

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  7. I am in Phoenix and my very.old bottle tree also shed extra amount of leaves during very hot summer Still looks super healthy. Needs pruned as no light is getting through at all, the branches are coming down below 6'. What month do I prune?? October or January?

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    1. As you know it is a rather thin barked tree when it is young, I would wait until winter when the sun is lower, less direct and intense and temperatures are cooler. In Phoenix I would wait until December or January.

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  8. I live in Georgia and bought my first Scarlett Bottlebrush this last spring. I enjoyed the beautiful blooms over summer and it has really grown.
    During this winter, the leaves have all turned brown and still attached to the Bush. We had a cold snap where the temperature was low for a few days and we had about an inch of ice here.
    Should I leave the leaves on the Bush, pick them off or just leave them alone? The Bush is making new growth already at the top of each branch, so I assume that it is still alive.

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    1. Here in Las Vegas we dip into the mid to low 20's during the night in the winter for a few nights but this is usually just before sunrise. Plant damage from cold depends on the low temperature AND for how long. Both the temperature and duration of that temperature are important. Ice deposited on leaves and stems can be important in insulating the plant from temperatures below freezing. It just depends. The proof is in the pudding. If you see new leaves it is a good sign that the damage was just to soft tissue like leaves and maybe tender shoots as well. Strip the leaves off if you don't like the look or leave them on. The plant doesn't care. You might though. In the future, never fertilize tender plants after August 1.

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  9. Livi n Arizona one of my bottle trees leaves are curling. Any suggestions as to the cause?

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    1. The usual reasons for bottle tree problems are either soil and/or water problems. Watering/soil/root problems can show up on tree leaves. Thanks for paying attention to the tree.

      Leaves curling or rolling can be an indication the tree is not getting enough water. This can happen for 2 reasons; not enough water is given to the tree OR the tree is watered too often resulting in root suffocation, root death and the lack of water reaching the leaves.

      The usual scenarios I run into with bottle trees is watering too often and the roots suffocate and become diseased, watering often but not enough water resulting in drought, poor drainage from the soil resulting in root death and drought. Seldom do I see problems that result from not watering often enough.

      You are much better off watering this plant with too much water in one single application then you are if you are watering too often. If you are watering this tree more than once a week it might be in trouble for this reason.

      Root suffocation from watering too often or poor drainage results in a tree not securely anchored in the soil. After one year the tree should no longer be staked. Walk up to the tree and bend or push on it while you look at the soil around the base of the trunk. If the tree is not securely anchored in the soil after one season of growth, the soil around the base will move and the tree will "wobble" or "wiggle" in the soil. It will not be securely anchored. This is a positive sign for poor root development either from watering problems and root suffocation or circling roots in the container when it was planted. Circling roots is a nursery/growing problem before you bought it.

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  10. My African Schumacher is dropping leaves like crazy. Yellow leaves. My Gardner increased the watering schedule 3 weeks ago so the tree is getting watered 3times per day 15 minutes each time. However I am seeing new growth of green leaves. It's my tree dying?

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    1. You mean African Sumac? No tree or shrub should be watered three times a day for 15 minutes, not even a lawn. That is a whacky schedule. Get a different gardener. Yes, it is watered WAY too often. Twice a week is plenty provided it gets enough water each time. Root rot = leaf yellowing and leaf drop.

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