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Newly planted Escallonia (rubra) not doing well...

Hi guys!  New here, I explored and read all the intro information including about the search function, but couldn;t find something that fit my issue.  So I recently planted 3, 2 within last 3 weeks, 1 within last 2, escallonia (rubra) shrubs and the 2 that have been planted longer are not doing so hot.  I purchased these from a reputable nursery, and here's some info that might explain what's going on.

I dug a hole twice as wide and slight deeper than the rootball, filled with a mixture of natural soil and planting soil.  One shrub has started to loose it's color (still green but very, VERY light), with about half brown leaves in front, a few spotted brown in back.  The other has about 1/4 it's leaves on the ground, brown leaves in front, 1/2 brown half spotted in back.  Now I am 100% positive the brown leaves in front are from my dogs peeing on them (which I have put a stop to, took about a week though), though the leaves in back are not from this.  And to complicate matters the third escallonia bush has also been urinated on and that one still looks wonderful.  Any ideas of the issue guys?  I hope to save at least the light green one as it looks doable.  The worst one I will work on but expect to lose.  I of course have learned about leaf spot, but I just don't feel like this is the issue or the only one due to the one shrub loosing color.  I am thankful for any and all advice.  


  • I will add the soil naturally is very clay filled (northern California), and slow draining. 
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 27,620
    Two questions then - did you water the plants well before and after planting?  Did you break up the clay beneath the planting hole. 

    They may be thirsty - newly planted shrubs need regular watering till established and their roots have spread enough to find their own nutrients and moisture without help.  This can take a whole growing season if planted in spring or late winter.

    On the other hand, if you didn't break up the clay beneath the new hole the water will not be draining away and their roots may be waterlogged and lacking air.

    Another thing to consider is exposure.   These plants need protection from cold, drying winds while they get established.

    Lastly, this is a UK based forum so we're not familiar with northern California growing conditions.   We do, however, have a very good Royal Horticultural Society who offer the following advice for growing escallonia rubra -$
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Cody Doser 304Cody Doser 304 Posts: 5
    edited March 2018
    Hi Obelixx.  This was the best forum I found, and unfortunately there does not seem to be many for this type of stuff!  Just to clarify for anyone else, Northern California, USA, Hot and dry summers (summers consist of 40 degree celcius weather, winter RARELY gets below 0), not the wettest winters.  Area just got out of a 10+ year drought this last winter.  I did water them down, though I do not know if it was adequete as I was trying to find that happy middle ground.  As for the clay, I took out about 2-3 inches of the natural soil (clay) from the bottom of the transplant hole, and filled it with something (the mixture I described) that would drain better.  Would that be enough for it to be draining below the plant?  Drainage was my main concern knowing how this area is.  It has been raining the last 36 hours, will be raining for another 36 minimum (not a hard rain, very little wind, temperature is 15-20), so if dry was the issue it will not be here shortly...  I'd also like to add the two not doing so well were from the local nursery, but ordered in.  The third doing better was locally grown. 

    edit: and for more added info, I just went out and inspected again.  The brown leaves in front are more brittle/dry.  Again, dog pee I assume.  The ones towards the back have a slightly more mushy feel to them than the healthier leaves.  Maybe that tells someone something.
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 27,620
    You're right.  This is an excellent forum with many knowledgeable and friendly members.

    Doggy pee may be one cause but drainage may still be a problem.  When you plant on clay you risk creating a pan that holds water so it's best to prepare the hole to the required depth but, having dug it, insert a large garden fork as deeply as possible and wiggle it back and forth to make drainage holes.  Do this thoroughly all over the hole and then backfill with a good planting medium and water generously.

    The two that were ordered in may just need to acclimatise but, assuming everything else is OK, maybe have a word with the nursery about your problems.

    Incidentally, we have recently moved to the Vendée in France and have a clay subsoil in much of the garden and brick making soil in the existing beds which is going to need a lot of patient mulching to improve it.   Not as hot as you but we have recently come out of a 17month drought which added to the fun.  Since mid December we've had a bit more than one year's normal rainfall.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,227

    Waterlogged soil could well be the problem: dig a hole near to your shrubs, but not close enough to damage them, and leave it for a few hours. When you go back look to see if water has collected in the bottom. If it hasn't, pour a bucket of water in, go away and come back in 20 minutes or so and check if all the water is gone. If, in either case, you have water you need to experiment with a different way of planting, which I will explain if you post on here. Another problem with escallonia is that they hate cold, sharp wind. I don't know if you get this in California but it crisps up my escallonia quite regularly.

  • Obellix, thank you for the suggestion.  I didn't think to just poke some drainage holes, and that makes perfect sense.  As for your new area, yeah clay is a real PITA.  Even just digging my hole (76 cm wide about half that depth) was an hour long adventure minimum... Makes me wonder what the heck grew here in my area before mankind took over.  Besides the oaks of course...   

    Posy, I will try that hopefully once the rain lets up a little.  thank you for the suggestion.  I learn towards waterlogged, but obviously don't know for sure or I wouldn't be here :)  If you would like to explain to me a different way of planting to experiment with I;d be all ears as I wish to plant a couple more trees next year (and hopefully won't have to replace my shrubs).  I only waited to see how well I did with these shrubs, since if they died I didn't want to invest too much!   Also, there was some very cold wind, at least for this area, recently!  Could had been the issue.  My area is in the Sacramento Valley, so surrounded by mountains and only at 500 feet (don't know what the equivilent would be for elevation in metric?) elevation.  When wind comes from the mountains up North... it feels much colder than it actually is temperature wise. 
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 27,620
    Clay soils are usually very fertile but need a lot of organic matter and also sharp sand and fine grit to open them up.   This link from the good old RHS explains clay soils, how to improve them and also gives tips on when and how to plant shrubs and trees -
    I tried planting stuff in one of the existing beds in this new plot and it was like concrete.  This spring after having applied several inches of mulching compost last year and a decent slew of rain these last 3 months, it's much easier to work.   I'm getting in quick before it dries out again.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,227
    Hi, Cody. Improving your soil like Obelixx says is best but if you have already done a lot of that and you still have standing water in the planting holes there is another way. I didn't make this up, it comes from the much mentioned Monty Don. When you dig the planting hole, make it wide but not so deep as usual. Mix the soil you have removed with really good top soil and some composted muck and pile it back into the hole so that it makes a little hill. Firm it down but make sure it still rises well above the surrounding soil. Plant into that. You have to take care it doesn't wash away and top up and mulch from time to time but the roots that grow close to the surface are protected from spending all winter standing in water. It really works.
    However, before you do all that, try shielding your escallonia from the wind. That could be the problem. Good luck!
  • Thanks for all the suggestions guys.  I'm going to try a couple things and hope for the best, while adapting as needed.  All good advice that you don't find with smiple research, but with experience.  Thanks again!
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 27,620
    Our pleasure.  Let us know how you get on.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
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