Many gardeners fell in love with the majestic foliage and beautiful blooms of weigelas. With a bit of maintenance and watering they can be a great addition to any garden or lawn, making these fast-growing shrubs friendly for newbie growers.
But, like most ornamental plants, weigelas can sometimes encounter problems, too. You might notice the stems or branches suddenly dying back, which is very frustrating – and worrying, too, if you do not know the exact cause!
But do not despair – we have listed below the most common reasons your weigela might look dead. Hopefully, you can use this information to troubleshoot your problem and bring your plant back to life.
Weigela plant overview
Weigela is a deciduous shrub that belongs to the honeysuckle family. It has tubular flowers that come in various shades of pink, making it an excellent ornamental for your garden or landscape. Beneficial birds and insects, such as hummingbirds and butterflies, also find its romantic charm irresistible.
Depending on the variety, weigela can grow up to ten feet high and 12 feet wide. However, some smaller varieties might only reach a height of 12 inches and a width of 18 inches at maturity. The green foliage is edged with different shades, from creamy white to soft yellow, which perfectly accentuates the beautiful blooms.
Although weigelas are usually planted as shrub borders or landscape decor, the smaller varieties can be displayed as indoor ornamentals when grown in containers. With all their different leaf variegations, sizes, and colors, you are sure to find a weigela to meet your specific purpose!
If you are keen to add this beautiful shrub to your garden collection, it is essential that you know its basic plant care needs. Some of the most important requirements of growing a weigela include adequate light and proper watering.
While some varieties, specifically those with purple or chartreuse foliage, grow best in full sunlight, weigelas with variegated foliage will benefit more from partial shade. Hence, the sunlight preference of your chosen variety should also be considered. Damage from sunscald is also a risk if you move your plant too suddenly to a brightly-lit area.
Another important factor that many inexperienced growers might easily overlook is the watering requirements of their plants. Weigelas generally need a good drink quite regularly until they are fully established. Once they have reached maturity, they will demand very little watering, unless the weather is particularly hot and dry.
An unhealthy and dying weigela is often the ugly consequence of improper plant care, from improper watering habits to inadequate sunlight exposure. Further neglect of the underlying issue will soon result in root rot, fungal leaf disease, and pest infestation.
Why my weigela looks dead – causes and fixes
Saving a dying weigela plant requires the correct diagnosis and solution. Check the symptoms below to see what best matches the current condition of your plant:
Brown and brittle leaves are a classic sign of an underwatered plant. Assess your weigela’s leaves – do they look dry and lifeless? Are they curling or wilting? If yes, then your weigela may be struggling with drought stress due to lack of water.
To assess the moisture level of your plant’s soil, feel its top layer with your finger or insert a soil moisture meter about two inches into the soil. This should give you an idea of whether your weigela needs a drink or not.
2. Root rot
Root rot is a common plant disease that can cause great damage to your weigela’s root system. If your plant has been sitting in waterlogged soil for a prolonged period, there is a chance that the roots will suffocate and drown due to lack of access to oxygen. They will then begin to rot, and the rot will eventually spread throughout the plant, cutting short its life.
There are two main culprits behind root rot disease – one is overwatering and the second is poorly-draining soil. Both of these mistakes can leave the soil too saturated and promote the growth of fungal pathogens.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell when your weigela is struggling with root rot, because the earliest symptoms occur under the ground. This means that you will need to take the plant out of its pot to check the roots. Healthy weigela plants should have firm, white roots. If the roots look dark and mushy and have a foul smell, you are likely dealing with root rot.
How often should your weigela be watered?
A fully-established weigela requires moderate watering – about one to two inches of rainfall per week. Supplemental watering might also be necessary if you live in an area with a hot climate and less rainfall.
3. Twig blight disease
Twig blight is one of the many types of fungal diseases that can affect weigelas. The fungal spores mainly attack the tips of the plant’s branches, resulting in necrotic brown lesions. Younger weigela plants tend to be more vulnerable to this disease than those that are older than five years.
Early intervention through the use of copper or lime sulfur fungicides might prevent the disease from spreading further. But, for severely infected plants, it is best to discard them to protect the other, healthier plants in your garden.
4. Leaf spot disease
Fungal leaf spot occurs when fungal spores find a suitable home in the warm, damp leaves of your weigela. The first signs of this disease include the presence of yellow, tan, or brown spots on the leaf surface. Over time, the pinhead-sized spots or lesions can combine to become large blotches that encompass the entire leaf.
Application of preventative fungicides during the early stage of the disease gives you the best chance at saving your weigela. Make sure to choose a treatment that contains any of these active ingredients: iprodione, fludioxonil, azoxystrobin, chlorothalonil, or mancozeb.
5. Botrytis cinerea
Another fungal disease that can severely damage or kill your weigela is Botrytis. Also known as gray mold disease, Botrytis is caused by Botrytis cinerea, a type of fungus that attacks the leaves and stems of your plants. The affected plants will usually display yellowed leaves that curl inwards, followed by gray-brown lesions or cankers that spread through the leaves and stems.
The most effective way to deal with gray mold disease in your weigela is to cut off the infected parts and spray the plant with disinfectants like diluted bleach or alcohol. Make sure to disinfect all your gardening tools as well, to avoid spreading the fungus.
6. Aphid and mealybug infestations
There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with these tiny nuisances that cause havoc on your garden plants. Pests like mealybugs and aphids can be very problematic to weigelas, as they suck the precious nutrients from the foliage, causing the plants to lose their vigor.
Mealybug infestations are characterized by cotton-like growth around the leaves and stems of the affected weigela. Horticultural oil and neem oil are so far the best organic treatments available to eliminate both adult pests and their eggs. Spray the solution on the infected parts of the plants three times a day for up to ten days, or until the pests are completely eradicated.
Aphids, meanwhile, excrete a honeydew substance on the leaf surface that attracts sooty mold and ants. These tiny pests cause the leaves to curl and turn yellow as the plant struggles with the impact of the infestation. Several solutions can be implemented to eliminate aphids, such as:
- manually removing the pests using cotton wool dipped in alcohol.
- attracting natural predators like ladybugs and wasps.
- applying insecticidal soaps and oils to manage larger infestations.
7. Frost damage
Frost damage in weigelas can sometimes be confused with twig blight due to their similar symptoms. If you notice the tips of the branches turning brown during the cold months, then it is likely that your plant is struggling with frostbite.
Freezing temperatures can disrupt the water flow within delicate plant tissue, which is why your weigela’s leaves will be shriveled as if they are dying. Unfortunately, the only solution is to wait until the cold season is over. You should never prune the damaged parts of your plant, as this will likely cause them further stress.
After the last frost has passed, you can prune away the dead sections of your weigela, and during the spring months it should start growing and blooming once again.
Do weigelas lose their leaves in winter?
Since the weigela is a deciduous shrub, it will likely lose most of its leaves during wintertime. Unfortunately, this lack of leaves will expose its delicate stems to the sunlight on cold, bright days, increasing the risk of sunscald. If you notice stems or shoots starting to shrivel and become dry, cover them immediately with a commercial tree wrap to keep them warm.
How to revive a dying weigela
Once you have diagnosed the underlying cause of your dying weigela, it is very important to correct your plant care errors to prevent these problems from happening again in the future.
Improper watering is often the culprit of foliage damage, which can be exacerbated by fungal diseases and pest infestations. So, make sure to keep your weigela healthy and strong to reduce the risk of pests and fungal issues.
It is also best to cut back the damaged leaves and stems of your plant, preferably during the spring season. By doing so, your weigela can focus on new growth and possibly also more blooms later in the growing season.
Weigelas might be low-maintenance and easy to care for, but they can also be vulnerable to certain issues. If you are considering adding this beautiful, hardy shrub to your own garden, make sure that you have educated yourself on the common problems above, so that you know how to avoid them in the future!
Image: istockphoto.com / Magdalena Nowak