The case of the shriveled forsythia

Oklahoma City, OK

My husband and I have made a backyard raised bed vegetable garden. Around the perimeter on two sides, we've defined the space by creating an area for shrubs and flowers. I chose dwarf forsythia bushes and have yet to add the flowers (though I'm thinking of a creeping verbena....). Anyway - of the 6 forsythia we've planted only one is doing well. The others area shriveling before our eyes. Leaves are shriveled and dry and crunchy. I've been told it is nearly impossible to kill forsythia and I'm hoping that these plants are merely in shock after planting but I'm afraid they are not long for this world.

Particulars - full sun, have been watered well. Live in OKC and though no frost, we are still cooler than normal. I appreciate any insight or encouragement.


Thumbnail by kellokie
Georgetown, TX(Zone 8a)

Just a couple quick and easy ideas as I can't see the forsythia very well in the photo and don't know how quickly this happened after you planted. Based on your description, two things come to mind if this happened quickly. (I'm basing this on dry crispy leaves and "full sun and watered well")

1. Overfertilization. If you fed these with liquid fertilizer and goofed when mixing it up, this would instantly cause dry shriveled leaves. If this is the case, they are almost certainly dead and gone.

2. You watered them during the day and the leaves got wet and burned in the full sun. If this is the case, they might recover if you stop watering overhead during the middle of the day.

If it happened slowly, it could be something in the ground is eating the roots. Gophers, moles or grubs would be suspects. First two should leave obvious signs of tunneling on your property, but the grubs would be less noticeable at first. Did you come across any fat, white, nasty wormish-looking things curled into a semi-circle when you were digging this bed?

Worst case, the soil there is bad. You can take a sample to your county extension office and have it tested if you can't find the cause elsewhere.

Sorry if you were already aware of these possibilities, these are just the most obvious things that come to mind.

Oklahoma City, OK

Thanks for the reply - they were all planted in a mix of 60% dirt and 1-1-1 compost. They were watered all over, top and roots - but the sun has not been strong enough to burn the leaves like this.

As to how quickly they began to shrivel w/in days of planting. I'm attaching a closeup pic of the worst one. Poor little thing.

Thumbnail by kellokie
Georgetown, TX(Zone 8a)

Sorry for taking a couple days to return, last week was a busy one for me.

Well, I can see in your new pic that the leaves are not BLACK and shriveled, which would happen very quickly with overfertilization, and you say they weren't burned by the sun. That leaves something eating the roots as the most likely suspect. I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on your yard, but I do notice in the first picture you posted at the top of this thread that the grass nearby does show some brown patches. That is a sign that you do have a high population of grubs in the soil. You can do something about that, but it's not as cut and dried as some say. People will immediately start shouting "Milky Spore!" when they hear the word "grubs". The problem is that Milky Spore does not kill all grubs - it's mainly for japanese beetles. Since you are in OK, my guess is the problem is more likely to be June bugs. I've used Scotts Grub X in the past with good results, but you can ask at your local nursery for their recommendation. Both of these products are controls, not insecticides. I'm sure there is probably an insecticide you can use as well, but I'm not the insecticide type, so I can't make any recommendations there.

Another thing I would point out from reading your post again is I just noticed that you mentioned you were considering verbena in that border. Since this surrounds your raised vegetable garden, I would recommend you choose something else. Verbena attracts mites like a magnet.

Here's a link that you may find helpful. It's a list of companion plants that can repel insects, destroy nematodes in the soil, etc. It might help you to choose some good plants to grow in the border around your vegetables and save you some pest problems in the future:

Hope this helps! Ask at your local nursery, too. I could be overlooking something very obvious and it always helpful to get more than one opinion. Most people at a nursery love to talk gardening.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Give us the sequence of plant acquisition, soil prep, and installation. Were the plants dormant when you bought them?

Have you been back to the place you bought these, to see if there are still any in good shape?

Rather than catastrophic site conditions (amazingly voracious invertebrate larvae notwithstanding), I think you may have purchased some damaged goods.

Morehead, KY

Crowded root systems sometimes cause the leaf curling I see. forsythia's are quite rugged in my expierience requiring very little fertilizer. They look like the hole was either too small or hardened and the fertilizer may have burnt the roots a bit. Mulch them,trim them back and wait til spring is my suggestion. Of course another approach may be warrented this Summer. It will become obvious.
You might just dig one up and stick it in a 5 gallon pail of water and watch. I've had them do just fine for months just like that.

Cleburne, TX(Zone 8a)

Looking at your pics it look like you need more soil prep, like lots of home made compost. good luck

This message was edited May 14, 2011 5:27 AM

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