Annuals shriveling up and dying .. what am I doing wrong??

jennyrios3March 28, 2013

Hi everyone,

About a week ago, I planted some coleus in a bed in front of my house. It faces north and is under a big magnolia tree, so it is very shady. As is typical of most everything I plant, they have promptly started shriveling up and dying. A couple of them have holes in the edges of the leaves like something is eating them, but others are just turning brown. I don't see anything obvious on them. Any ideas or things I should look for? Are they just not getting enough sun? I am in Houston, TX, zone 9.

Thank you so much for any advice!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you grew them.. did you harden them off first ...

otherwise.. cold damage ...

the eaten hole has nothing to do with this ...

i think of coleus and begonia.. as the tenderest of all plants .... and you dont need to actually get to 32 degrees.. to end up with damage.. and it can show.. many days later ...

there are buds in the crock of every leaf .. where it attaches to the trunk.. and those look undamaged...

watch the forecast more closely.. and get some boxes from the grocer.. and run out and cover them.. if it threatens 35 degrees or so..


    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 8:00PM
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Thank you so much! It turns out we did have a surprise cold front right after I planted these. I don't know for sure if it made it all the way down to 32 or 35, but I know it was close. It was 39 one morning when I walked my kids to catch the bus. I will definitely keep an eye out for any more cold weather. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:20PM
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Oh, to answer your question .. no, I did not grow them myself. They are from a local nursery chain here. Do you still think they'd be susceptible to temperatures in the upper 30's?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:43PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

It does look like cold damage to me but it must have been colder than the upper 30s. Whh do you think that everything shrivels up and dies after you plant it? Most people have a sense of what might be wrong.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 6:06PM
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I think I've had various failures. In some cases, like the hostas and caladiums I planted in my back yard, it seemed like something just ate up the leaves till there was nothing left. Other times it's been just improper plant choices for the location .. like the roses I just removed from the front (slightly behind and to the side of the magnolia from the picture in my post about the scale on the magnolia tree) .. they didn't get enough sun. On the side with the hollies in the front, there were roses in front of the hollies at one point, which again, not enough sun and I think I pruned them too much and at the wrong time .. then ixora .. I think also not enough sun .. then hydrangeas .. and I'm not sure what happened with them. I think I might have planted them when it was too hot out (middle of summer), and I chalked it up to them just being a picky plant and the soil and/or drainage not being to their liking. I've had a gardenia on my back porch turn brown and die within a matter of days (another one of the same type also on the back porch survived). In that case I vaguely remember there were a lot of ants in and around that pot. And I just dug up and got rid of an iris in the back that was covered in scale. That is what triggered my current hunt for scale and my desire to clean things up and finally really try to understand why I've had such a hard time (and stop wasting my time and money!!). As I'm sure you can tell from all this, I've had a lot of disasters over the years. It's embarrassing even to admit all of these. So far the only things that have done o.k. are the agapanthus, sago palm, and what I think is a type of holly (it's cut in a round ball shape) in the front and some lantana in the back. Usually if I plant annuals in the front, though, (like the coleus I was asking about), they at least last longer than a week which is why I decided to ask about them here because I really wasn't sure what went wrong. This is the first time I've planted anything new in a couple years and I just wanted to cry when I saw them start to turn brown at the edges!

Well, that is the pathetic story of my brown thumb .. lol. I am going to keep trying, though .. and am going to hire a professional to try to clean up the scale and maintain the trees and shrubs .. and I will keep coming here and other places on the web to try to learn more and make better choices. I truly appreciate the advice from you and all the others on this forum.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 11:23PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

What does it look/feel like under that mulch? Are you sure the roots are in soil, not just mulch? Leaving a little no-mulch ring around plants is usually a good idea.

Last week there was frost here 3 times, don't know about where you are, but my new Coleus were completely killed. Hard to say from the glare in that pic, but that does look like frost bite.

You might enjoy some wax Begonias. They wouldn't mind the dry conditions under the tree, bloom constantly, just not as tall.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:51AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

No! Purple...not your coleus! :-(

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 2:37PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Yes, it wasn't many since I did have slight worries about frost, was holding back some of everything. I'll check stuff if the sun ever ever comes back out here. It wasn't technically past the last frost date, but the 10-day looked great when I dug holes, over a month later than the past couple years. You can tell people stuff, but do they listen? No, they kill Coleus anyway ;()

They were spread in too many places to cover, I just said, Ah sheet!

Jenny, your plants don't look anywhere near dead in that pic, just had a bad scare. What are they looking like now?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 2:57PM
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Mine aren't looking too bad I think, except maybe the smallest one. I've been out of town for a few days so tomorrow I'll go take a good look at them and post another pic. The point about the roots being in soil and not just mulch is a good one, though. My husband had mulch put down earlier than I wanted so I had to scrape off about 4 inches of mulch to get to real dirt when I was planting them. I kind of worried that what I filled around the holes with was more mulch than soil .. But I just did my best. I'm sorry to hear you lost yours :-(

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 11:38PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Thanks, it's always a gamble, especially doing these things before it's truly safe.

There's fans of both ways, plant first vs. mulch first, no right or wrong. If you plant first next time, you can put a pot upside-down over any plants short enough, then mulching is so easy. Or use the pots or even rocks to "save spots" for easier planting next time, if still doing it after.

Was there any mulch there before?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:26PM
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Coleus doesn't like it cold. Also, I'm not a fan of black mulch. What makes it black? Small plants can't take thick, black mulch .

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 11:39AM
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Coleus doesn't like it cold. Also, I'm not a fan of black mulch. What makes it black? Small plants can't take thick, black mulch .

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 11:40AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

It looks like nice, finely shredded hardwood. It looks new, will lighten as the sun bakes it. But I agree, little plants can get "lost."

That's why I asked if there was mulch there before. If not, the action of decomposition could be having a slow time getting going, causing a nitrogen-robbing effect. If the spot has been the home to decomposing mulch previously, this is not usually an issue, IME.

If giving the plants a light dose of a fertilizer with a much higher first number- the nitrogen number (like 10-2-2) helps the plants look better, that would be evidence to support that theory. With the assumption they had a little frost bite, and with any Coleus in general, it's hard to distinguish chlorosis, but the plants do look somewhat nitrogen-robbed, to my NOT-expert eyes.

Jenny, feel free to add a new pic if you think your Coleus look like they need more guidance. ...they are in mostly shade, right?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 12:14PM
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I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reply .. I took another set of pictures a few weeks ago and then never got around to posting them (crazy school carnival .. which is finally over .. yea!!!) The coleus seem to be hanging on. The bigger ones are doing much better but the smallest one is just kind of staying the same, not dead but not growing much either. Purpleinopp, I haven't given them any fertilizer yet but I can definitely try that. I usually add some Osmocote in the planting hole when I plant something new, but for some reason I don't think I did that with these little ones. And to answer your question, there has always been mulch in this area, which is why I did kind of worry b/c I have to really dig to reach actual soil and you're right .. the little ones do get kind of lost. They are in mostly shade. They get morning sun until maybe 11:00 or noon. One thing I should mention, these are "sun" coleus. I thought that meant they could tolerate more sun than regular coleus, but not necessarily that they required full sun. Is that right? And again, thank you so much for all your comments. You are immensely helpful to a newbie like me :-)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 4:10PM
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Here's a close up of the smallest one ..

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 4:11PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Even with pics, it's impossible to rule out other things but this looks like a plant that is struggling with the difference in soil between its' peaty root ball and the surrounding soil. This just happens sometimes, despite anyone's best efforts to plant and then coddle them well. Combined with a little frost bite, it's had a struggle. Looks like it's on the frontier, the edge of the bed, and may have been more affected by the frost because of that added exposure. Try not to water it unless it's truly thirsty. That will give it cause to make roots beyond the peat ball.

Having long-term mulch there is good. You might have to dig a little deeper, push it back a little bit to give tiny new plants like this room to breathe, but the soil under there should be very nice, well-drained, more fertile, not drying as quickly, moderating temp extremes in summer and winter, a great thing. Replace as needed, as it decomposes, to keep a 2-4" layer of fresh on top.

I wouldn't see any need to fertilize these plants. Coleus have always grown well for me without it, especially in the ground.

At this point, if you remove the big, mostly damaged older leaves, you'll end up with much nicer looking* plants with many more branches and total mass of foliage. From this angle, the ones I'd remove have orange stars on them, and any others that are more brown than green. The dead parts are just blocking the light. This will allow light to reach more parts of the plant, improve air circulation, and encourage many new tips (which will soon be branches) to grow away from the main stem. I prefer this over pinching the tips on new plants this short, as there is no reduction in height, and the difference at the end of the year is astonishing if done vs. not done at all, and between tip-pinched vs. removing the original leaves from the main stem but not the tip.

Glad you find it helpful, I love babbling about one of my fav plants!

*Sometimes one might want a tall, thin plant, which is fine. Just trim nothing at all.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 12:27PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

The red writing is apparently not enough for the truly forgetful...

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 11:19AM
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