Friday, June 7, 2013

When bad bushes happen to good people

Back in March, I moved my viburnum from the front yard to the side to continue to develop a privacy screen between me and my neighbors (I blogged about it here). I was religious about watering every day. It formed new buds, then leaves, and even tiny flowers emerged (though not the full flowers you'd see on a healthy viburnum).

Everything was going great!

Then I got the great idea in early May to remove the two wooden stakes holding it up, because surely 2 months is long enough for it to have grown roots that will stabilize it, right? Clearly common sense is not one of my strong points.

That weekend was very windy, and the viburnum kept toppling over again and again. During one of the times when I was trying to right it, I noticed all sorts of fuzzy white things on the undersides of the leaves. Then I noticed some little bugs in the crooks of the branches.

See the fuzzy white thing on the leaf?


Some internet sleuthing made me think they were mealybugs (though in hindsight, I'm not so sure). When they didn't budge after spraying them with water, I did something I never do. I bought and used pesticide.

That didn't go over so well. The fuzzy white cocoon-type things are still there. And now it looks like the entire viburnum is dead.

Dead. Or just hibernating in June.
The leaves have curled, shriveled, and turned brown. The flowers are gone. And those damn fuzzy white things are still there.

However, from what I've read, mealybugs may cause the leaves to wither but not necessarily kill the shrub, so I don't know what's going on. Did I underwater? Is it bugs? Was it the pesticides? Is it really dead or just not looking so good?

No matter what caused the current situation, I have an 8-foot-tall dead-looking shrub in my yard. And here is where I turn to you, internet readers. What would you do?

To help, I'm including some pictures of how it looks in the context of everything else around it:

From backyard looking toward front: L-R - 2-year-old Eastern redbud, possibly dead viburnum, and dwarf lilac on the far right 

Opposite view. Eastern redbud in foreground, possibly dead viburnum in middle of photo.

Your choices are:

a) Keep the shrub and hope it comes back to life next year
b) Remove the viburnum and plant something else in its place (if so, suggestions?)
c) Treat it somehow - it just needs some TLC!
d) Other - Insert your suggestion here


  1. To find out if its really dead or not, you can cut one of the branches, and see if there is any moisture inside, or if it's completely dried out. If there is a chance that the plant will survive, and the problem is bugs, I would cut the little white cocoons out of the bush, put them in a garbage bag, and then out on the curb. The last thing you want is the bugs to hatch, eat what's left of the plant, or move on to another plant nearby!!

  2. I'm with Emily Rose - cut a branch and if it's green inside, it's alive. Although it frankly looks pretty dead to me. I have mealybugs on my turtleheads all the time,and I can't believe they would kill a viburnum. I think you need to keep looking for the real killer. On the other hand, how much fun is it to get to buy another plant?

  3. Uh oh. Your viburnum may have succumbed due to the move, the windy uprooting or the most common pest, viburnum leaf beetle. The cocoons may be secondary -- they are some sort of moth or other pupa that took advantage of the viburnum's weak defenses, not the actual cause of its death (it's hard to tell from the photo what they really are.)

    In any case, it is not going to be ok. My vote is to take it out, and plant another shrub there. A nice fothergilla! They are pest free, and will bloom with white bottlebrush spikes just as the redbud blooms -- very nice together. And fothergillas have spectacular fall color.

    So sad about the viburnum, but it will be fun to try a new plant there!

  4. I also would get rid of it. The Viburnum has bad karma. Fothergilla is a nice choice. Or maybe an Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry) or Clethra alnifolia (summersweet).C

  5. Oh, I'm so sorry. That really sucks. I vote to listen to Laurrie. She's always right!

  6. Yikes...well, it definitely looks dead...but if you really want to save it, definitely check to see that there's no green wood (as someone mentioned above). I like the idea of a Fothergilla there...they are BEAUTIFUL!

  7. Has anyone figured out the culprit yet? I have noticed the same problem on my viburnum. A white, stringy cocoon that when pulled has a smoky dry sediment coming from it with a dark center. Probably a cocoon for some type of pest. Just seems to have appeared overnight. I am off to the nursery for identification tomorrow! Sorry you lost yours. Hoping to interrupt the activity of these cocoons with some type of treatment.

  8. Brenda - It could have been a number of things. I didn't have one specific cocoon, but rather a lot of tiny little fuzzy "homes" (I'm sure they're cocoons, but they look like fuzz spots) for something.