What could kill a shrub/bush in one day?
July 20, 2016 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I have some bushes if front of my house that were planted almost 3 years ago. When I came home from work tonight the one closest to my driveway was completely dead. All the other bushes of the same kind are in good health, but the leaves on this one are mostly gone, the ones that remain are dark brown. It was fine this morning.

My friend is suggesting that a dog peed on it. Is it possible for dog urine to completely kill a bush in one day. I feel that someone must have done something to it. I've used the water hose that is right next to this bush last night and this morning. There is no way that I missed seeing that the plant has been in distress. It looked completely healthy this morning.
posted by ericthegardener to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should say that despite my mefi name, I have no gardening knowledge.
posted by ericthegardener at 5:59 PM on July 20, 2016 [18 favorites]

If dog pee killed plants there would be dead plants everywhere. It could have had problems and just all of a sudden dropped its leaves. Any number of things could be going on but dog pee is not one of them.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:03 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wow. The only thing I can think of that could do that in one day would be an actual herbicide. Dog pee will burn the leaves it touches, generally over time (one pee isn't enough - I have three dogs, I know what they can kill and how fast), but the top of a 3-year-old shrub is generally out of range of all but a very dedicated Great Dane.

I don't even think gasoline would turn an entire bush brown in a day. And it would likely be a fast-acting herbicide/leafkiller type if it was herbicide, because many herbicides get absorbed into the root system first and then kill from within, it's very unsatisfying because you have to wait. But you would have seen wilting first if someone had successfully applied RoundUp or another one of those.

Do you have any pictures you can put on imgur or something?
posted by Lyn Never at 6:22 PM on July 20, 2016

Yeah, I don't know what would do this but it's definitely not dog pee. Dog pee can hurt a plant over time if dogs are peeing over and over again in the same place, but not in a day. I'm not sure what would cause a plant to turn brown and drop its leaves over the course of a day. Herbicides, I guess. Your plant may have been poisoned, somehow.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:23 PM on July 20, 2016

You actually may not have noticed deterioration over the last few days; leaves are not going to turn brown in the course of one day.

I would have a look at the base of the bush where the woody stem or stems come out of the ground. I bet you'll find evidence of mice or voles chewing on the bark; once they strip off bark and cambium under it, the tree or bush dies.

If this is the case it means your other shrubs are in danger as well. You might consider putting some protective guards around them, like these. But you can make your own out of hardware cloth you can buy by the foot at any decent hardware store. Make sure it is buried into the ground a few inches.
posted by beagle at 6:27 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No evidence of vermin chewing the bark.


This morning it looked like the bush on the right.
posted by ericthegardener at 6:49 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some years ago, we had a hot water heater die and empty hot water at the base of some plants; they died pretty quick, but I think it took a couple of days to see the effect.
posted by amtho at 6:54 PM on July 20, 2016

Could someone be pranking you?
posted by blackzinfandel at 7:02 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've got a blowtorch weeder that produces roughly that effect on plants. Could it have been subjected to high heat?
posted by Bardolph at 7:10 PM on July 20, 2016

That is very striking.

Since you mention that bush is nearest your driveway, I was trying to imagine whether an automobile parked in your driveway with the engine running and the exhaust pipe pointed at your plant could do it over a period of an hour or so, but you'd see and feel some kind of oily residue on the leaves and branches.

Your siding does look maybe a little darker above and behind the dead plant, but not enough, I would say.
posted by jamjam at 7:11 PM on July 20, 2016

Response by poster: I don't know if I'd call it a prank, but it's my feeling that this was done intentionally. No idea why though. If it was from the exhaust of a car, there was no reason for a car to be parked in my driveway today. No workers at the house or anything like that.

jamjam, the brick behind the bush is the same color it has always been.
posted by ericthegardener at 7:32 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there a Master Gardener or Agricultural Extension office near you? These kinds of places sometimes will take cuttings or photos and help you identify plants and determine why plants are dying. If not, a local gardener, garden club, or garden store employee who you think has some more knowledge? (This is mystifying BTW! I hope you figure it out.)
posted by holyrood at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

When it's light out, could you walk around your neighborhood and see if there are any other shrubs that look similar?

Maybe if it's occurring along a specific path that will help narrow the list of culprits down.

[And please post an update if you find out what it is. This is very strange, indeed.]
posted by invisible ink at 7:49 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Salt or salt and vinegar.
posted by Michele in California at 7:51 PM on July 20, 2016

The picture isn't high resolution enough to be sure, but my first guess on seeing the image is fire blight. I'm not sure it would act so rapidly and whole plant, though. It also looks rather like Paraquat damage, but I don't see how someone could have sprayed it so precisely.

I lean towards some kind of disease, just because the other shrub isn't affected at all.

Can you tell if something was poured on it? Is the soil damper or drier or different smelling?
posted by congen at 7:51 PM on July 20, 2016

No idea what happened, but if it is any consolation, the same thing happened to one of my potted rosemary plants. One day it was beautiful, the next day brown as toast and deader than a door nail. No clue what happened.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 7:56 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No cameras set up now, but I plan on getting some. My first guess was that something was poured on it but I can't see that anything around that specific plant is damper or has a particular smell. The mulch seems undisturbed.

Thanks for the possible explanations, don't know how I can pick a best answer without knowing what actually happened.
posted by ericthegardener at 8:08 PM on July 20, 2016

Huh. Is there anyone who might want that particular bush dead -- like, is it near a property line? There are some herbicides where you cut a branch of the the plant and paint herbicide onto the cut, and the plant's own "circulatory" system distributes it throughout the plant -- check for anything that looks like that.

I mean, alternatively, Moses may have received a divine revelation in your yard at some point during the workday.
posted by ostro at 8:38 PM on July 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

You don't mention where you are, so I don't know what your weather has been like, but ... that looks like an azalea, or a similar rhododendron, which can be very susceptible to drought. That's a possibility. There are also various types of blight with symptoms like:

Leaves turn brown to black and fall in 3 to 4 days. Stems have brown spots on which white masses of spores later form. Or roots die and plants wilt without having leaf spots form. Plants die rapidly.

I recommend checking with your local extension service - they may be able to give you more information, and tell you how/if you should protect your other plants from whatever it may have died from.
posted by jferg at 8:50 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: On this page, someone asks about azaleas that died over the course of a week. Someone answers that "Sudden death of azaleas and rhododendrons is almost always caused by Phytophthora Root Rot which is caused by poor drainage." Other possible causes of death are also mentioned.
posted by Redstart at 9:25 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Redstart, now that may be a possibility. I don't know of a drainage problem per se, but as I said that plant is right next to the water faucet. Perhaps there is a plumbing leak that is not visible.
posted by ericthegardener at 9:47 PM on July 20, 2016

I'd suggest digging it up and looking at the roots. If you're not seeing anything above ground, this may suggest an answer. Perhaps a burrowing animal took out a significant root or collection of roots. Redstart's drainage suggestion may be apparent, too.
posted by Capri at 11:04 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have heard of a similar thing happening due to a gopher eating roots near the crown of the plant.
posted by purpleclover at 12:31 AM on July 21, 2016

Here's some more information about Phytophthora, including root symptoms to look for. I agree that you ought to dig up the plant and look at the roots. You can also see if the soil looks wet, though the page I linked to says that plant death often happens when hot, dry weather sets in and the plant no longer has enough roots to provide the water it needs. If that's what happened to your plant, the soil could be drier now than it was when the problem started.
posted by Redstart at 4:31 AM on July 21, 2016

Similar thought to the water leak but is the plant over a gas line? Neighbors here got a pipe leaking underground and you could trace the pipeline from the trail of dead grass on the lawn
posted by KateViolet at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2016

Returning from my run this morning, I noticed the EXACT SAME THING with my two azalea bushes which are about 10' apart! Completely brown leaves on bushes that have been over 6 years hardy and lovely. All I know is we had a heatwave here in the Boston area then a fair bit of rain.

I'm cutting off all the dead limbs, basically pruning it to the roots and I'll see how it plays out.

Just wanted to chime in that this just happened to me.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:49 AM on August 13, 2016

« Older Quirky Things to See in Europe in October   |   How to clean walls with low/no-VOC paint? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.