The Q&A Archives: Mountain Fire Pieris died this spring

Question: I have planted japanese pieris Mountain Fire 4 years ago. It was planted on the east side of my house where it had sun until 1PM.
It did well for 2 years: flowered, had bright red new growth. On the third year I have noticed that it looked worse: some branches dried out. I thought it has too much sun and thought about transplanting it in the fall but could not find a good shady spot for it. Next spring it was dead.
This pieris was planted together with PJM rhododendrons along my house foundation: they have the same soil, the same fertilizer, the same sun exposure, the same watering in summer. Rhododendrons are doing well and flower every spring (the only thing is they look sparse now inside and have leaves only on branch tips but I understand I need to prune them after flowering next spring).
What could have happened to my pieris? I also planted Hinoki false cypress in the spot where my pieris was this spring and it died too (but quickly, about a month after planting).
Can something be in my soil which kills these plants if rhododendron does great just 5 feet apart?

Answer: Pieris will handle full sun all morning just fine so I do not think the location was too sunny for it, especially since it did well for two years. Since it did well for the first two years, there is a chance it was related to either poor rooting, or to something in the soil. Since the false cypress also did poorly but quickly showed signs of trouble, I would look at the planting site and soil. Has something changed since you originally planted there? Is the soil extra wet or dry, is there something unusual such as de-icing salts contacting the soil? Is there a change in drainage patterns such as a leaking rain gutter? Was the original soil preparation the same as for the rhododendrons? Is there a root from a nearby tree invading the area? An underground gas pipe with a tiny leak? It can be difficult to diagnose this type of problem, but with some detective work I think you may find an answer. Your local professional nursery staff may also have some ideas. I hope this helps.

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