Lavender die-back

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Schizolobium

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Lavender die-back
« on: March 04, 2020, 07:55:06 PM »
Although I have lived in Southern Spain for twenty years, it was not until I moved into this house in 2017 that I had the opportunity to create a garden. The site was a blank canvas, just a few geriatric fruit trees and the aftermath of building works.

Planting began in January 2018. Following Olivier Filippi’s inspirational books, I planned a dry garden, where only new plantings would be watered as required. I provided a watering basin around each plant. In the autumn of that year we had exceptionally heavy rainfall, 150mm in October and the same again in November. I mention that as it may be significant.

In early 2019, as the previous year’s planting sprung into life. I was delighted with the result; it exceeded my expectations. However, as summer progressed, I was presented with a quandary. Many lavenders started to die back but not the whole plant, just certain stems. I lifted some and potted them up, having cut out the dead sections. They recovered strongly so I reasoned that the cause was unlikely to be disease. I had considered phytophthora as the culprit but that is highly unlikely given the planting conditions – see the footnote.

Most lavender species and cultivars were susceptible, the only ones spared were L. multifida and L. dentata. Some other plants were affected, notably Perovskia atriplicifolia and Verbena bonariensis. None of the many Rosemaries were affected, which is interesting in light of a post describing a similar problem http://www.mgsforum.org/smf/index.php?topic=843.0

Examining the plants that did die, I noticed their roots showed no sign of fine feeding-root. I also saw that there was a build up, some 2 to 3 cm deep, of fine silt in the watering basins.

I conclude that root of the problem, no pun intended, is that the soil level around the collar of the plants had risen. The heavy rain washing down the slope had collected in the basins, as intended, but bringing soil with it; the plants were suffocating in silt.

Is this a reasonable and likely interpretation? If so, how can I manage the situation given that the plants are established, the profile of the watering basins too?

A corollary would be that watering basins are not appropriate for plantings on a slope.

Footnote
Hot semi-arid climate (Köppen type ‘BSh’), 330mm p.a. rainfall, SE facing slope (1 in 5), 50m altitude, 500m from sea. Shallow, calcareous, sandy soil on a bedrock of schist veined with gypsum.
Once an astrophysicist but a now down-to-earth gardener. Brought up in South Africa, spent 15 years in Sussex establishing a large woodland garden which was open to the public under the NGS. Settled in Spain, on the Costa Tropical (Granada), creating a new, medium sized, irrigation-free garden.

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MikeHardman

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Re: Lavender die-back
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2020, 09:46:34 PM »
I get a similar problem on some of my many lavender bushes from time to time.
In previous years, it has been related to a considerable build-up of soil by ants, engulfing the lower stems. The soil itself might not have been the problem; it may have been raised moisture/humidity through the presence of the extra soil.
This year, I noticed several lavenders with stems dying off, following my watering other plants in the vicinity (to keep them going during our prolonged hot summer).
I managed to kill a Grevillia the same way a few years ago; a known cause of death in that genus.

Curiously, rosemary (which also copes with drought well), does not seem as prone to watering-induced die-back.
Mike
Geologist by Uni training, IT consultant, Referee for Viola for Botanical Society of the British Isles, commissioned author and photographer on Viola for RHS (Enc. of Perennials, The Garden, The Plantsman).
I garden near Polis, Cyprus, 100m alt., on marl, but have gardened mainly in S.England

David Dickinson

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Re: Lavender die-back
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2020, 01:14:21 AM »
Hi Schizolobium

I have no answer for you but you have set me thinking about a problem I have had this year when you mention "suffocating in silt". I have lost several plants this year that should have been able to cope with the long hot summer we had. Most I can replace with cuttings I have but Nauplius sericeus, no :-( (I do have seeds of that but no luck so far in getting them to germinate).

Among the plants that died was Salvia leucantha growing in a tub. When I dug around to see if I could find any sign of life I noticed that all the organic matter in my compost gravel mix had been reduced to the finest "sand" imaginable and I wonder if that mixed with water over the summer has "drowned" the plant. Like you I found very little evidence of roots and no sign of insect life that could have been responsible.
I have a small garden in Rome, Italy. Some open soil, some concrete, some paved. Temperatures in winter occasionally down to 0°C. Summer temperatures up to 40°C in the shade. There are never watering restrictions but, of course, there is little natural water for much of June, July and August.

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MikeHardman

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Re: Lavender die-back
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2020, 08:39:25 PM »
David,
When I happen to pull-up a dead branch from a lavender bush, if it has been in the soil, I have noticed quite a few tiny pale invertebrates inhabiting it. I have presumed they are incomers after the branch has died, not causal agents; but I don't really know. They may be lice (they are not ants, termites, beetle larvae, moth larvae, woodlice).
//Mike
Mike
Geologist by Uni training, IT consultant, Referee for Viola for Botanical Society of the British Isles, commissioned author and photographer on Viola for RHS (Enc. of Perennials, The Garden, The Plantsman).
I garden near Polis, Cyprus, 100m alt., on marl, but have gardened mainly in S.England