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Indian Hawthorns are seeing spots

Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) hit the landscape scene pretty big in the early 1980′s. At the time I turned up my nose at them because I didn’t believe they were winter hardy in the metro Atlanta area. By the winter of 1983-84 I was justified in my concerns when the temps dropped to -5 at my house in Marietta.  The hawthorns didn’t make it. None of them. Of course, they weren’t the only ones that succumbed.  Many of the Southern Indica azaleas, crepemyrtles, and pyracantha didn’t make it either.  Come to think of it, we don’t use pyracantha (Firethorne, in English) much to this day.  Maybe it’s the thorns.Indian Hawthorne with Leaf Spot

At any rate, Indian Hawthorn came roaring back to popularity after that very hard winter.  People were replacing dead Indian Hawthorn with more Indian Hawthorn.  I remember thinking, “How stupid. The replacement plants will just freeze again the next time we have a hard winter.”  That was perhaps 1985 and they have yet to have a large scale die off like they did in 1983. Was I mistaken?

A couple of things happened in the years since.  First, we had several years of mild or ‘normal’ winters. Second, the plant breeders got busy, and perhaps learned a lesson from that cold winter, and began to breed plants that were a little more cold hardy that the early cultivars.  That was 25 years ago and it’s been ‘steady as she goes’.  Or has it?

While there hasn’t been a really bad winter to cause a large scale die off there is another nemesis lurking in the landscape.  Entomosporium leaf spot (Leaf Spot, in English) is causing moderate losses in Indian Hawthorn plantings in the metro Atlanta area. I have observed plantings in Lilburn and Locust Grove just this week that showed heavy infestations of the disease.

Before we discuss the treatment, a little background info: Indian hawthorn is in the Rose Family (Rosaceae, in Latin). Kin not only to roses, but apple trees, and Red Tip Photinias. Remember Red Tips? I remember selling them by the hundreds on any Saturday in the spring when I managed a Pike Nursery in the 80′s. They sold in one gallon pots for $1.88 and my little store would sell 500 to 1,000 a week. Red Tips were great until we had a couple of wet winters and they contracted a case of….you guessed it! Entomosporium Leaf Spot! Red Tips all across the land were dropping leaves like flies and there was little that could be done for them.  It was a good example of what happens when we plant too much of one thing. Today you see Red Tips only rarely. Typically, they are in old hedge rows that have been abandoned, growing to 15′ or so when they aren’t sheared constantly. It’s ironic to me that the best treatment for the disease included leaving them alone.

While Indian hawthorn aren’t doomed to a similar fate as Red Tips, I think we will see some noticeable losses as we exit this rainy winter . Treatment includes pruning, sanitation,  and spraying. Pruning , or shearing, is helpful to generate fresh growth where the plant has been defoliated . Sanitation means cleaning up the dead leaves that have fallen under the plant. This is more easily said than done because of the dense branch structure of the plant. Dig out what you can with your hands, then try using a blower to blast more out.  A light layer of fresh, not re-used, pine straw will help reduce re-infecting the plant. And finally, spraying the plants with a fungicide called Mancozeb will keep the Leaf Spot at bay. As always, read and follow label directions when using any pesticide.

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2 Responses

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  1. Allison Hughston says

    If the entire plant has been defoliated, is there hope to save the plant or should we replace?

  2. admin says

    Try this: Cut back the limbs to about 10-12″ high. Remove every single leaf that has fallen to the ground. These infected leaves will only re-infect the new growth that is about to occur. Apply a fresh layer of pine straw, then fertilize with a good shrub fertilizer at the label rate. It will look like a bucket of sticks for a few weeks but the coming warm weather will cause them to be flush with new growth. One little caveat…if stems look like the bark is cracked or split then those limbs have died. If there are just a few they can be removed easily with your pruners. If more than 50% of the plant looks like this, then I would pull up the hawthorn and plant something different. Send me a photo of the plant if you need more help.

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