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Magnolia Is Dying Why?

Ask the Expert: Magnolia Tree….leaves brown and dry
I live in PA.  I have a Magnolia Tree that is about 5 years old.  Last year it got a few flowers.  However, this year it looks dead.  All of the leaves are brown and hard.  We put holly tone fertilizer in the ground.  A few branches (on the lower half) of leaves turned really green after a week, but the rest still look dead and brown. The leaves were never spotted and I do not see anything growing on the trunk. Someone mentioned that there is some kind of worm that gets in the top of the tree trunk and kills the tree…is that a possibility?  If so, what is that called?  Thank you for any advice. Kelly

Plant Expert Reply:

They could be referring to scale or magnolia borers. If you had either there would be signs of it still on the tree in the form of things that looked liked raise bumps or oozing places on the stems or trunks.

Magnolias are susceptible to a few pests and diseases such as baterical leaf spot, magnolia boreres, spot anthracnose, canker, dieback, butt rot, powdery mildew, anthracnose, fungal spots, snails, weevils, scale insects, planthoppers, and thrips.

I believe in your case dieback is probably the culprit.  Dieback is cuased by a freezing injury to the plant.  This usually occurs when the winter has extreme flutuation in the winter temperatures and condition.  The tips or tops of plants usually are effect by dieback.  You will need to prune out all of the dead limbs and branches.

It could be a result of anthracnose, fungal or bacterial problems.  However, normally fungua will present themselves with discoloration on the leaves, trunk or branches.  Since you didn’t see any of these signs, dieback seems to be the isssue.

If it was insect damage, you would see evidence of the insects.  Again since there is no evidence of insects, dieback seems to be the problem.

I would take one more careful look at all parts of the tree.  If you see anything out of the ordinary, send me a picture and I will identify what it is.  In the mean time, you will still need to trim out the dead.  Cut branches back until you find live green wood.

Good luck and keep me posted.


  1. Aynsley Broom says:

    Hi Pamela,
    If the black on the buds is like a coating it could be mildew or mold. To help clear this up, you will need to remove the affected plant parts. You can read more about solutions here: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/black-mildew-southern-magnolia-38422.html