Click for larger image Sudden death of juniper (Juniperus) probably caused by root rot from over watering

The sudden decline or death of a tree or shrub can be caused by many factors. It is commonly the result of major trauma to the root and/or vascular tissue of the plant. It makes sense that any factor that cuts off water to the upper parts of the plant would result in quick, sudden wilting and death.

Root rot disease that destroys feeder roots, diseases that clog the vascular xylem tissue (water conducting tissue), and damage to the trunk of the tree by insects, disease, and/or mechanical means can result in sudden wilting and death of twigs and branches. These factors are usually very serious and frequently result in death of all or part of the plant. Brittle, inflexible, and shriveling twigs and stems are a sure sign of severe damage. Sudden drought, herbicides, or other environmental conditions can also cause leaves to wilt and drop. If the damage is slight and twigs remain green and flexible, the plant may recover; if severe, death of the plant will result.

Sudden death can also be the culminating event of a plant that has been in gradual decline for several years. Frequently, homeowners miss the signs of gradual decline and believe the problem occurred suddenly. See also "Gradual Decline of Trees and Shrubs."

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Diagnosis involves conducting a thorough analysis of the plant, site, and often other environmental factors. Inspect the trunk and root area for signs of insects, disease, and/or rot. Dig into the soil area and examine the roots for signs of drought or excessive moisture. A history of recent activities in the area may also be helpful in pinning down a cause.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

1. Remove the plant. Frequently, the only course of action is to remove the plant. It is helpful to try and determine what caused the problem so any new plants placed in the location do not befall the same fate.

2. Location. If a disease is believed to have caused the death of the plant, it is generally advised not to plant the same kind of plant back in the same location. Instead, choose a plant well-adapted to the site that is not subject to the disease.

Organic Strategies

Both of the recommended IPM strategies are strictly organic approaches.