Leafing Out Issues: What To Do For A Shrub Without Leaves

Leafing Out Issues: What To Do For A Shrub Without Leaves

By: Jackie Carroll

If your bushes leaf out late, then you may be wondering what the reason is. Keep reading and learn to tell the difference and find out why there are no leaves on bushes.

Normal Reasons for Shrubs Not Leafing Out

Those of us who keep garden journals and know exactly when our shrubs leafed out in previous years may become alarmed when bushes leaf out late. Temperature and day length control the timing, so you can expect shrubs to leaf out later in years when temperatures are cooler and earlier in warm years. These year-to-year variations are normal.

You might also see variations as a shrub matures. For example, young maples often leaf out before older specimens. This allows shorter, immature shrubs to absorb energy from the sun before the older shrubs leaf out and block the sun’s rays. As young shrubs mature, they will leaf out later.

Leafing Out Issues

You may be able to find the source of leafing out issues by removing one of the buds and slicing it open. If the bud is green on the outside and brown inside, it usually indicates cold injury. Clip off the twig that held the bud and strip off the bark. The wood under the bark should be soft and green. Twigs with brown, dry wood are suffering from a chronic stress condition. Insects, diseases and poor placement cause chronic stress. The roots of shrubs planted near pavement often suffer chronic stress due to heat and dry soil.

Suspect a disease if entire branches or twigs fail to leaf out or when there are no leaves on the bush. Brown streaks in the wood indicate a disease called verticillium wilt. The treatment for a disease is to trim back the affected twigs until you find healthy wood. Use clean pruners and disinfect them between cuts to avoid spreading the disease. If the shrub shows symptoms of disease on most of its branches, you may not be able to save the plant.

Some insects can completely defoliate a shrub or kill the buds, resulting in a shrub without leaves. Insect problems are a challenge for inexperienced gardeners because you must first identify the insect. If you can’t identify it yourself, your cooperative extension agent may be able to help. Spraying the shrub with a broad spectrum, non-specific insecticide is likely to make the problem worse. Try non-chemical means of insect control first, and if you must use chemicals, look for insecticides that list the insect you want to kill on the label. Follow the label instructions carefully. Improper mixing or spraying at the wrong time can seriously damage the shrub.

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Answer #2 · Gardenality.com's Answer · John pretty much hit all the points I know of that could cause burning bush to die. If spider mites are ruled out and there's no obvious signs of damage from other insects, I usually assume something is going on with the roots due to constantly soggy soil or soil that is too dry. Clay soils hold more water than other soils during rainy periods, especially during winter. Soggy soil is often the culprit and can cause root rot, a disease that is very difficult if not impossible to cure after it has set in. When established burning bush are quite drought tolerant though. I have three very healthy burning bush in my landscape here in mid-Georgia that are about 6 or 7 years old and at least 6 feet tall. I can honestly say I've never watered them and they've survived drought with no problems. even a record drought we had several years ago. So I wouldn't think it is drought unless the plants were already under stress from too much water and drought finally did them in. In some areas of the country voles can be a problem. As John mentioned, if it's voles you might see chewing damage to the bark at the base of the main trunk(s).

You might want to contact your local arborist or extension agent to see if he/she can help with a diagnosis and remedy.

Hope you can determine what is causing the problem and find a remedy. Lets hope it's not root rot.

Answer #1 · Maple Tree's Answer · Hi Richard-There is a couple of things that may be affecting your plants. As you mentioned the amount of moisture in the soil is probably the largest factor that affects the Burning bush. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant. Yours should be well established and if all your plants are getting the same amount of water this may not be the issue although your soil may have different water holding or draining factors in different parts of your gardens. Your watering may be wetting the surface, but not penetrating deep enough to wet the whole root ball. Too much water can also be a killer. Your clay soil can definitely be holding too much water and over time causing root rot. Dig down 8 to 12 inches around the shrubs and feel the soil. If it feels dry you can let a hose run slowly at times to water deeply a couple of time a month. The soil should feel cool and moist, not wet or saturated. If wet let the soil dry somewhat by holding up watering and cut the watering intervals to longer periods between watering.
Although you have layers of rock below the clay soil that may be well draining the water may still be held in the clay not draining into these layers. When planting in a compacted or heavy clay, mix in organic compost at a 25 to 30% ratio to condition the soil and help with drainage.

Although you may not see any sign of insect or disease you might want to check for Spider mites. They are very small and fairly common with the burning bush. If spider mites are present discoloration, browning leaves, dead wood, and leaf drop will all occur. To check for spider mites hold a white sheet of paper under the foliage where it's brown and green.Tap the branches. If you see little specks moving around that are about the size of a pencil tip, either orange to red in color or greenish with two black spots, then your plant has spider mites. Control spider mites with Neem Oil. Neem oil is organic and very safe to use. And just in case the problem is a disease Neem Oil controls disease as well.
A while back a member had a question concerning the control of voles. I remember when researching this problem reading of voles damaging and killing the burning bush. I found that the State of Utah Natural Resources considers the Meadow Vole a real problem in Northern Utah along with many other states. I'm not sure if the burning bush is any more attractive to the vole than other shrubs or trees. You may want to check the lower areas of the trunk and stems for any damage. The vole will chew the bark and strip enough around the lowers parts of the shrub to cause its death. Voles will use mulch and other debri such as fallen leaves to hide and travel under on there way to dinner. In the winter months they will even use the snow as a concealment for their paths between their dens and locations they use for meals.

Below I noted some links to other questions that have been asked regarding the burning bush and voles that may be interesting and helpful in finding your problem. You can click on the links to go directly to the question and answers.

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