The Q&A Archives: Sweet Pea Shrub - completely brown

Question: We planted two sweet pea shrubs (Polygala fruticosa) pruned as beautiful topiaries on either side of our western exposure yard this past spring. Both received lots of water with automatic sprinklers as indicated by their flourishing as well as all the ground plants/flowers around them. One shrub has instantly turned completely brown - there's not a single green left on it, however all the ground plantings are doing quite well, which leads me to think it's not for lack of water. The other shrub is still beautiful and green. What could have happened? With proper love and care, can it be revived or is it gone forever? Thanks for your help.

Answer: Sweet Pea Shrub is not prone to any particular disease problems so it's difficult to say what may have caused the symptoms. To determine whether or not it is still alive you can gently scrape one of the branches with your thumbnail to look for green tissue just beneath the bark. If there's green tissue, the branch still has life; if the tissue is brown, it's dead. Keep scraping lower and lower down on the plant until you find live material. If you do, prune off all the dead stems and branches to encourage new growth. If you find nothing but dead material, the plant is gone and should be removed from the garden. Since there are no diseases specific to Polygala, the problem may be due to a root problem - poorly draining soils or soils that are kept too wet can cause root rot. If the plant is dead, dig it up and inspect the root system. Mushy roots are a sure indication of over-saturation. Wish I could offer more positive information!

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