How to Identify a Sick Shrub


Learning how to identify a sick shrub in the landscape begins with monitoring all plants on a regular basis. Consider this job a regular part of your quarterly landscaping tasks. Symptoms of shrub sickness involve very obvious signs such as leaf drop as well as less visible signs like pet damage to the shrub trunk and branches. Many plants exhibit subtle changes that gardeners don't recognize as the start of severe health issues for the plant. Awareness and quick action often result in rejuvenation of the shrub based on proper care and advice from a knowledgeable source such as a nursery or local master gardener association.

Step 1

Monitor the condition of your landscape shrubs every 3threemonths to check for damaged or diseased sections of the plants. Ignoring plants over the entire winter season doesn't provide a frequent reference point to use when determining if a plant still retains its health and vigor. Periodically cataloging the health of all shrubs will help you catch instances of sickness in the plant quickly.

Step 2

Take pictures of your landscape to aid in referencing your plants. Landscape plants are an expensive investment that enhances the home and increases the value of the property. Your catalog will also help pinpoint problems for comparative purposes if you seek out the help of a skilled garden consultant.

Step 3

Look for signs of failure in the plant, including dead or dying branches and peeling or damaged bark. Begin by checking the tips of branches for flexibility when gently bending the branch. Dieback of shrubs indicates an overall decline of the plant that often begins at the branch ends. Areas with healthy and dead branches located side-by-side often indicate a sick shrub.

Step 4

Check for withering or curled leaves as well as areas containing yellowed leaves. Plants experiencing decline often exhibit damage from the top of the shrub downward. Systemic damage to the plant might be subtle at first but examine the plant carefully and look for patterned damage across the entire plant.

Step 5

Investigate the current growing situation of the plant by determining the optimum growing conditions. Find out the sunlight requirements as well as soil, drainage and fertilizing needs for the shrub. Perform an Internet search with the shrub name and "" at the end of your search. This search parameter results in reputable sources from university cooperative extension programs around the country.

Step 6

Compare your research against the current growing conditions of the shrub. Check the quality of sunlight for any changes caused by crowding or the increased width of tree canopies. Soil quality declines over time and accelerates when shrubs compete with nearby trees. Access moisture and run off situations in the location to determine if this might be the problem.

Step 7

Clip off a branch from a dead section of the plant. On a healthier shrub, simply clip a few sections at the branch ends as an example for use at the nursery or extension service. Gather your pictures and research as well as a current picture of the shrub to take to the nursery.

Things You'll Need

  • USDA hardiness zone map
  • Camera
  • Internet pictures/plant descriptions
  • Pruning shears


  • University of California, Davis: What's wrong with my plant?
  • University of Illinois: Decline and dieback in trees and shrubs
Keywords: sick shrubs, identify sick shrubs, shrub dieback

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various sites, including Helium, eHow and Xomba. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.