Osmanthus Fragrans leaf tip turned brown

daniel_clSeptember 13, 2010


We purchased a 2-feet-tall Osmanthus Fragrans 'Fudingzhu' today. Although young, it is already flowering. Our only problem is that the tips of the leaves were turning brown in the nursery. All of the nine Osmanthus they have showed the same brown tips. (We took it home anyway because it was the only one flowering.) Pictures below:

Older leaves

New leaves

The nursery staff said it is probably caused by over-watering (the white residuals on the leaves come from their hard tap water). We did some research online, and suspect over-fertilizing.

Any diagnosis? Thanks.

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yellowthumb(5a Ontario)

Hi Daniel,

That's an unhealthy looking Osmanthus. It's going to take a long time to recover or even worse, it's going to die on you the coming winter.

Where you got your Fudingzhu? They don't know what they are doing and the poor plants probably have been there for a long time.

It's probably caused by overwatering. Of course, dry air and over fert can have the same symptoms.

I have two Fudingzhu, I also live at Ottawa, one is large and the other is medium size. None of them have the brown tips.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 11:09PM
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Thanks, YT. It is nice to know someone else in Ottawa having Osmanthus. May I ask where did you get yours?

We bought the plant from Richmond Nursery Inc. Their other trees/shrubs seemed healthy - just the Osmanthus plants showed the brown tips.

In an attempt to recover the plant from over-watering/fertilizing, I re-potted the tree from a 2-gallon container into a fabric "smartpot" 5-gallon bag mixed with 40% play sand. I also removed the top 1 inch of soil/fertilizer (it was planted too deep anyway - same as 90% of all container plants we bought from nurseries).

We will keep it indoors beside a sunny window. The plant's roots seemed fine - not terribly pot bound. Hope it likes the improved drainage/aeration and the diluted nutrients.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 12:29AM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Those brown tips are what happened to mine when I let it get too dry for a couple of weeks. The plant will look much better when it gets some new growth.

I have found that regular misting *when it's outdoors) helps both new growth and flowers get started.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 9:26AM
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Absolutely right Mehitabe!!

That is the only time I have ever had brown tips on mine..I find that they rebel against drying out and do react..They are not one of those for me that likes to dry out between waterings..I find that mine like to be evenly moist at all times..


    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 8:51AM
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Hm so I have two conflicting theories but only one plant to gamble upon. However, I read that if the soil is too water saturated, it will have insufficient oxygen for the root to function to absorb water and other nutrients. So it will show similar symptoms to "drying out".

I haven't watered since planting about a week ago. Today I sticked one of those glass auto-watering globes beneath the root. Only a little water drained away from the globe, so I guess the roots were doing all right.

The brown-tipped leaves keep falling, though. I guess once a leaf is brown-tipped, it is doomed to fall. Hopefully the tree will soon start to grow new leaves. For the past week nothing new has been growing yet.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 10:58PM
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yellowthumb(5a Ontario)

Hi Daniel,

Your Osmanthus doesn't sound right to me. It's not the right time for Osmanthus to put out new growth now. Now it's flowering time which will make the situation worse. Osmanthus is notorious for flowering to death, in this case, it will keep flowering but no new growth until all leaves lost and energy used up.

You can pull the plant out of it pot and check its root. I suspect root rot. I repotted all mine into the gritty mix and 5:1:1. Interesting enough, Osmanthus likes 5:1:1 a lot than the gritty mix.

Osmanthus hate dry or wet, it needs moist, which translates into a porous and fast drain soil. So far I found 5:1:1 with a clay pot is the best.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 11:48PM
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As yellowthumb has said,

The 5.1.1 mix is perfect for these plants..

Mine have abosulutely no problems now and I never have to worry about the watering issues that these plants are notorious for rebeling against..

To dry brown tips and dropped leaves..
To wet complete brown leaves, sometime yellowing, and dropped leaves..Over flowering while branches die off.

At this time, I would not fertilize at all till next year..


    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 2:44PM
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My old leaves look like that all the time. I thought it was the sun and heat here in Florida.
It hasn't prevented loads of fragrant flowers fall through spring though!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2010 at 8:02PM
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Thanks for the information.

The root of the plant was fine (all white) when we repotted it. So far we haven't seen any new growth and flower. There are new buds on the branch tips, but they never develop. The browned leaves gets worse slowly and drop.

According to some online resources, Osmanthus, an evergreen, sometimes enters "dormancy" when it does not grow at all for a few months. I suspect the plant might have entered the dormancy stage when it received too little/much water (or whatever stress).

I assume that dormancy in Osmanthus is also induced by the accumulation of the plant hormone ABA just like others. To break the dormancy, the plant needs a prolonged (~2 months) low-temperature period to break down the accumulated ABA.

If the plant still shows no growth, we are going to give it a vacation in the cool garage for two months late winter to catch up with next spring. I keep hearing people praising the "5:1:1" mix. We'll certainly give it a try.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 1:05PM
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yellowthumb(5a Ontario)

Hi Daniel,

Hold it off. The Fudingzhu is a four seasons variety, which does NOT need and actually prefer not to have the dormancy. So if you have a sunny window, that's perfect for it. You can set up a clear plastic bag over it (leave the pot mix out) and pounch a couple of holes on top for ventilation. Then spray with rain water every day, no Osmanthus can resist the temptation to grow. If you add a little bit of organic fertilizer (seaweed kelp), it's going to be crazy.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 2:59PM
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Yellowthumb has hit many points right on th head!

Mine do fantastic when I listen to Yellowthumb...I love these plants!


    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 3:46PM
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Thanks. I'll keep the plant indoors and beside a sunny window over the winter.

For the plastic bag treatment, should I start right away, or give the plant some more time to recover from the stress?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 8:32PM
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Just an update:

I have been holding off the plastic bag treatment since the plant was still flowering. There were quite a lot of flowers.

But since two weeks ago, it started dropping all of the remaining brown tipped leaves. Today the plant has only one (brown-tipped) leaf left.

The tree still has dozens of not brown-tipped green new growths that look like will develop into flowers. But they are not growing any bigger.

So I guess this is the moment to apply the plastic bag + moisture treatment. I'll come back with results.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 4:25PM
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How warm does that room get your plant is in?

Does it sit on a carpet or wood floor?

Does it sit near a cold window?

The bag treatment shouln't be needed, as mine never do..
They prefer cool damp enviroments, but it is not needed..
Warm and moist is a calling for mold..Esoecially this time of year..
There are ways to raise the local humidity for it if you want too..They prefer cool and moist enviroments, but will get by if you can not provide that.

Dormancy is not something mine do or I suggest...All mine ever needs is light and partial sun, even in winter..It is at this time mine flowers like crazy..The cooler and more humid, the better..Regular showers, or even sprays of the hose in winter is loved by these and will help keep your plants clean of dust and bugs..

Good luck and thanks for the update..I have been waiting..


    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 6:05PM
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Mine is blooing too, small plant, but has many buds, and fragrance is very similar to Henna..Mine also has brown tipped leaves as you all can see..

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 6:45PM
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If you are growing your sweet olive in a pot, there is a
consideration to take into account.
I had one in a pot for about 3 years, years ago, I lived in PA which is too cold to keep the tea olive outside in the winter.
My leaves would get like that and in the spring, I would take it outside and totally flush the pot really well to
remove the build up of SALTS that accumulate in the
soil over time.
Can you see a little white salt in the top of the container?
Some times you can see it on the side of a clay pot.
You can do it over the winter using your bathtub if you have one, or your kitchen sink.
First, you water it real good til the water comes out of the bottom of the pot.
Wait at least 10 minutes, then water it real good again.
DO it at least twice to rinse the soil out, the salts will filter through.
Then after you rinse it out at least twice, spray it with a water bottle and it will be happy.
Using Foliage Pro also helps to eliminate salt build up, using just a little tiny bit every time you water.
Distilled water helps too, but you have to buy it at a drug store,(I confess, I use to use it in the winter).
Your brown leaves look like salt build up to me, try flushing it and see if that doesn't help.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 12:21AM
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I have killed several sweet olives over the years...indoors.

Outdoors in my Texas Gulf Coast garden I had a good-sized shrub that did well even through extremes of drought and flooding rains. It loved sun and high humidity and flowered heavily, especially in late fall/winter.

Indoors sweet olives are temperamental. I've tried various conditions including cool temps under fluorescent lights and warmer conditions in a sunny window where many other plants are very successful. The latest sweet olive came indoors from a long summer looking not overly happy (with the classic browned leaf tips), did not put out new growth under lights and gradually pined away and died in the sunny window (all the leaves gradually browned and fell off, and the green buds eventually turned brown).

I will probably try again since I'm a sucker for that fragrance.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 12:53PM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

I bought a one-gallon Fudingzu from Nurcar this spring. It grew right along over the summer. It responds to misting with new growth. Repeat, it responds to misting with new growth.

I moved it to the front porch while my deck was being renovated, and neglected the watering. Leaves turned brown at the tips.

Moved it back, resumed watering (and misting with the hose several times a day). It resumed new growth after several weeks.

Left it outside til temps were threatening to go below 20, then moved it into the garage, which stays app 10 degrees warmer. Again, let it get too dry, since it was cold and dark out there. With the recent dip in temperature, finally brought it indoors to a sunny west window. Dropped a lot of leaves (too dry), but not all. It still has a nice form and plenty of leaves. Within a couple of weeks, set literally dozens and dozens and more dozens of buds, which are now opening.

Butterfly's advice to flush salts out of the pot is very good. Osmanthus are said to react poorly to buildup of fertilizer salts.

If you want new growth on your Osmanthus, please follow Mike's and my advice: mist the branches. Outdoors, you can just mist with the hose several times a day, til the branches drip. Indoors, maybe you can water it in the shower or tub, spraying the branches all over. I'm not sure why misting works so well with Osmanthus (I do it to my other potted plants outdoors as well). Maybe the humidity in its native habitat.

But make sure, this really does work.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 3:35PM
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rexedwardfairy(Zone 11)

Okay. Here's a pic of my osmanthus. Same-same regarding the leaves. it's been doing this since I got it (two years ago). At some point I repotted it into 511 and that helped for a while..but then it started doing it again. At which point I flushed it with tap water incase it had salts (read Al's long [brilliant] posts on salts). No improvement. Seemed crazy that it'd have salt build up anyway, bc i'd already read they don't love to be fertilised (so it has not been) and it rains here A LOT. Even so, with still no improvement, I bought Distilled Water from the supermarket and flushed it. No improvement. I've moved it from full sun, to partial shade. No improvement. And we are at the point now where I'm actually rather CRANKY with it. Soooooo, misting is the trick eh? Right, that gives me hope. it's the one thing I haven't done (besides putting it into a clay pot). Wish me luck. I'll report back.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 3:53AM
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rexedwardfairy(Zone 11)

Just uploading pix again bc it seems not to have worked.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 3:55AM
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