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Oleander Drooping: Causes, Identification, And Prevention


Why is my Oleander drooping?

For the past month, I have been perplexed by an Oleander plant in my front yard that, despite my best efforts, has been drooping. The leaves, even the limbs, were bowed over giving the entire plant a sad and pitiful look. I researched this like crazy and did quite a bit of experimentation and, as it turns out, there are several factors that can cause this.

Why is my Oleander drooping? Common causes of drooping leaves and limbs on Oleander trees include:

  • Compacted Soil
  • Leaf Scorch
  • Heavy Limbs From Lack Of Pruning
  • Underwatering
  • Overwatering

This article will explain each of the causes, how to identify them, and the steps to take to correct and prevent future issues.

Compacted Soil

Oleanders are considered hardy and relatively low maintenance trees. That being said, compacted soil can inhibit their ability to thrive. Their root system’s growth can be choked by soil that is so tightly compacted that it does not allow for young roots to expand in search of nutrients.

This is mostly an issue with young Oleanders that have not have a few years to establish its root system but even aged Oleanders can suffer from growth stunt related to compacted soil.

How To Identify

The best way to determine if the soil surrounding your Oleander is too compacted is to dig into it just outside the root line. Make sure not to cut into roots but you want to dig several inches down. If the ground is difficult to dig into with a shovel, the roots of your Oleander will have an equally difficult time expanding.

Preventing Future Issues

You can incorporate compost into the compacted soil surrounding the tree. Be sure to stay just outside of the root line so as not to stress the plant. Another helpful material to mix into the compacted soil is expanded shale (link to Amazon), a trick I learned from a garden center in the Houston area when I was looking into planting a palm tree in my clay soil yard.

Since I have heavy clay soil, this was where I assumed I was having a problem. But I’d done quite a bit of work improving the clay soil prior to planting my Oleander. I incorporated liberal amounts of organic material into the ground. It turned out that this was not my issue in this case.

Bonus Tip: To continuously give your tree nutrient-rich soil to expand it’s root system, consider establishing an ongoing routine of dig and drop composting around the tree, outside the root line.

Leaf Scorch

Drooping of Oleander leaves can be a sign of disease, specifically Leaf Scorch. This is a bacterial infection caused by Xylella fastidiosa. If the leaves of your Oleander are yellowing and drooping, this may be the cause. Often confused with drought-related stress, leaf scorch usually begins with yellowing at the tips and advances throughout the leaf as the disease progresses (sourceOpens in a new tab.).

How To Identify

The yellowing and drooping leaves will likely be the first sign of infection. Check the ground surrounding the plant to ensure that the soil is not excessively dry. If you can rule out drought-related symptoms, Leaf Scorch may be the problem.

Preventing Future Problems

Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for Leaf Scorch. It is generally recommended that the plant be removed to prevent future infection of any other surrounding Oleander trees (sourceOpens in a new tab.).

Heavy Limbs From Lack Of Pruning

If the leaves a green and look generally healthy, it’s possible that the only reason your Oleander is drooping is from the weight of the limbs. As the limbs grow longer and filled with leaves and blooms, they become heavy and will appear to droop.

How To Identify

First, you should rule out all other potential causes from this article. Assuming none of those are present and the leaves of your Oleander look healthy and thriving, evaluate the length of the limbs. When was the last time they were pruned? If it has been a few years, then you likely have an issue that is very simple to correct.

Preventing Future Problems

Oleanders should be pruned in the fall after blooming. Avoid excessive trimming but this is an excellent time to give it a clean and tidy look for the next spring.

This video is less than two minutes long but quickly covers when and how to properly prune Oleander trees:

Gardening Tips : How to Prune Oleander

Underwatering

Although Oleanders are considered to be generally drought-tolerant, they do require at least minimal moisture in the soil in order to thrive. In fact, they do best when they are watered deeply on a regular basis. You don’t want to drown them (we’ll cover overwatering below) but regular watering to allow moist soil deep below the plant will help it to expand its root system fully.

How To Identify

Similar to the signs of Leaf Scorch, an Oleander that is in need of water will show signs of stress including yellowing of leaves and drooping of the leaves and limbs. Check the soil, both on the surface and a few inches deep. If the ground is bone dry, your Oleander is likely dying from thirst.

Preventing Future Problems

The best approach to avoid drought stress is to establish a regular watering routine for your Oleander. Depending on your soil type and the season, water the plant regularly allowing the water to soak deeply into the soil both directly below and in the surrounding soil.

Overwatering

I had tried everything listed above. My soil was not too compacted, there were no signs of disease, and I knew I wasn’t withholding water because I was watering every day. Sure, it would benefit from pruning but the small tree had been fine just weeks before.

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It turned out, in my case, that the problem was not a lack of attention but too much. I was watering daily because we were going through a drought in Southeast Texas. My grass was showing signs of drought stress and so I had established a twice per day watering routine for the grass and plants. But I failed to account for the clay soil.

Clay soil is excellent at retaining water. In fact, water will literally sit on top of clay soil when it is heavily compacted or thoroughly saturated. And though I didn’t have the compaction issue, I was still watering too much and the clay was holding onto it.

How To Identify

You can determine whether or not you are overwatering by simply checking the soil. If it is saturated and your Oleander’s leaves and limbs are drooping, you may be giving it too much love.

Drooping leaves and limbs on Oleander from over watering.

Preventing Future Problems

If the excess water is due to rainfall, there is not a lot that can be done. Just wait for the rain to stop and don’t give it additional water until the soil is dry and the plant is looking healthy again.

If, on the other hand, the weather isn’t the cause and you are watering your Oleander regularly, you may be drowning it’s root system unintentionally. Bad off on your watering routine and check the soil every day or two. Let the Oleander’s roots breathe. Once you are certain that the soil is dry and the tree looks healthy, you can resume watering but with less frequency.

Once I stopped the twice-per-day watering, my Oleander came back to life. I have a few yellowing leaves from the excess water but no more drooping leaves and limbs. It’s healthy again because it can breathe. Its roots aren’t drowning anymore.

Healthy Oleander, no longer drooping.

To learn more about the signs and dangers of overwatering plants, read this article.

Conclusion

Oleander plants can be low maintenance but that doesn’t mean that can be ignored. Keep an eye on the color and condition of the leaves and limbs. They show the tale-tell signs of the overall health and wellness of the plant.

If you are seeing signs of distress in your Oleander’s leaves or limbs, check for each of the potential causes that we’ve outlined. By identifying the problem early and taking appropriate corrective action, you can often revive a wilting Oleander and help it to thrive again.

Related Reading:

How To Get Rid Of White Spots On An Oleander Plant

Paul Brown

Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page

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