Asked on Mar 21, 2012

Any thoughts on what happened to this English Laurel Hedge?

Had a previous client call us regarding some issues with an existing large English Laurel Hedge. There is a very large dead section on the street side of the hedge. And from the dead section, it appears that there is a line of dead foliage running along the entire hedge.
I examined some more of the large dead area, and found a few new leaves emerging lower in the shrub. Most of the limbs and branches are completely dead, as I scraped some of the bark and found no green. Further into the shrub, I could find a few branches that still had some green color when I scraped the bark with my nail.
Has anyone ever seen something like this before? Any thoughts on if this could happen in any way other than a person maybe walking along spraying something, either on purpose or on accident? I have seen a shrub have major dieback from too much exhaust blowing into it if a machine is left running too close to it. But obviously, this extends along her entire hedge. One photo shows the inside/house view of the hedge, opposite from the large dead spot as seen on the street side.
Thanks for any ideas or thoughts.
Notice the large dead spot on the far left of the hedge and what appears to continue along the hedge to the right.
A closer view of the large dead area. One of the shrubs is entirely dead. One of the others (on the right of the photo) is only dead on the street side, yet has full foliage on the courtyard side. The base on the right side is a common plant that is only dead on the front side, and is still fully covered in foliage on the courtyard side. The middle section has a different shrub on the street side which is completely dead, and there is a healthy plant that is on the courtyard side.
View on the right side of the property. The gate seen is the same as in the 1st photo. The line continues along the hedge.
Looking into the hedge, there is a small amount of new growth appearing, but only low in the shrub.
Leaf photo, it is English Laurel.
This is the courtyard view of the same section of hedge that is completely dead from the street side.
  39 answers
  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Mar 21, 2012
    Looks about the height that a back back sprayer would be or a back pack leaf blower or a kid on a bike. I think you are right it looks like chemical damage of some sort.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 21, 2012
    Another interesting note, the homeowners use no chemicals on their property, so it would have had to be someone else walking in front of their hedge with a sprayer.
  • Ricardo B Ricardo B on Mar 22, 2012
    I'm leery about calling it chemical damage. When I viewed all the pictures and the healthy part of your side yard, I closed my eyes and imagined a motorcycle of 4-wheeler or even a small truck or golf cart running smack into that which died. Why do I think this? Well, you showed a picture of "Life finding a way" with the healthy leaves coming out. If it was weed or shrub killer spray, that would have killed down to the roots. I see a shock to the roots by impact damage. Determined roots pushed out life in spite of it's shocking treatment. So what's up with that long horizontal gash? I see handlebar or mirror or canopy damage as the vehicle forced its way out and away from the scene of the crime. (Of course, this is my vivid imagination running away with itself... It could have simply been space aliens bent on undermining private citizens efforts to keep the blue marble green.)
  • Leanne L Leanne L on Mar 22, 2012
    Better check into your roots too.. could be grub damage
  • Donny E Donny E on Mar 22, 2012
    ice melt or salt!
  • Dorthy O Dorthy O on Mar 22, 2012
    It looks like either spider mites or fungus gnats got to the root system. If your client doesn't want to use pesticides explain to them that they can use nutmeg or cinnamon and it will be just as effective. Best of luck!
  • Connie S Connie S on Mar 22, 2012
    Is that pine needles underneath the hedge??? could you have a beetle that is eating and giving it a blight??? remove the needles right away!!!
  • Mary E Mary E on Mar 22, 2012
    my bet would be salt or exfoliating spray
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 22, 2012
    Thanks for the ideas everyone, but there are a couple factors to keep in mind. First, only one side of the shrubs show any damage. There is not a single leaf on the interior of the courtyard that shows any damage. I believe that would rule out any grub, insect, or anything else that would normally affect the entire plant. Also, there is the long continual line of dead foliage on the street side. Again, I don't think mites, fungus, or insects would do damage in a long line, while not affecting any other part of the plant. I would say that pine needles would not be an issue, because again, the damage is completely occurring on only one side of the shrubs. Any other thoughts or opinions?
  • Karen B Karen B on Mar 22, 2012
    definitely remove the pine needles, promotes fungus, and limits water getting to roots. And burrowing insects will thrive under them. But I dont think thats whats killed part of it and made dead trail through middle to the right. That looks man made somehow, like chemical, some kind of spray that burned and killed it.
  • Karen B Karen B on Mar 22, 2012
    could be road salt truck, its not all salt some of it is chemical, looks like they were spreading then stopped and idled for awhile maybe
  • Hannah T Hannah T on Mar 22, 2012
    Spray doesn't kill English laurel, this looks like scarring, not chemical. We've been fighting laurel, you can cut it to a stump and it will still shoot up roots, give it time and it will be full in no time.
  • Hannah T Hannah T on Mar 22, 2012
    Roots = suckers
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 22, 2012
    The interior limbs are not broken or snapped, so it was not physical damage. Had I been able to see it with leaves still on it, it might have helped narrow down the issue, but all the dead areas are defoliated.
  • Rhonda G Rhonda G on Mar 22, 2012
    It's looks fungal, like a botytris blight on rhodies. It may even be bacterial due to poor shearing. That's why it's always important to disinfect your garden tools.
  • Sandy S Sandy S on Mar 22, 2012
    I'd say chemical damage of some sort, sprayed on the hedge.. You have to consider how the damage progressed (what the hedge looked like over time as the damage occured) and the start date of when it showed up. That would probably help you figure it out.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 22, 2012
    Good point Sandy. I will email the client back and see if she remembers when the damage appeared, and possibly how fast it progressed?
  • Debby G Debby G on Mar 23, 2012
    neighbor of mine had a similar problem.due to some type of moth I believe.........he did resolve by treating but took a season......BTW, the neighbor's hedge is in shape of a train and has about 8-10 cars including engine with cow catcher! If more info needed e-mail me at
  • Jaime M Jaime M on Mar 23, 2012
    looks like deer are eating it - that's a problem for us
  • Jaime M Jaime M on Mar 23, 2012
    Oh, sorry, only saw the main bush - didn't see the dead part... that was also an issue for us in WA state this past year. Parts would just die off; after they were pruned (down to nothing) they grew back healthy
  • GH GH on Mar 23, 2012
    Could it have been deer eating it? Many hedges where I live look like that.
  • Connie H Connie H on Mar 23, 2012
    I had boarer bugs attack my Crepe Myrtle. All this sawdust at the base had a choice to cut the big beautiful thing down or just let it slowly die, so I chose to cut off the stuff that was attacked. Stinks when that happens.
  • Tammie R Tammie R on Mar 23, 2012
    sometimes towns spray for mosquitoes. seems it might be at about that level.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 23, 2012
    mosquito spray may be a thought. Especially if someone used the same sprayer as they did for a different chemical, and did not thoroughly wash it out before spraying. I will need to ask if anyone sprays anything on her property. I highly doubt any deer would be there, as she is on a busy street, right in the heart of downtown Atlanta. That is why she values her hedge so much, this is their privacy for their courtyard.
  • Roxy D Roxy D on Mar 23, 2012
    Pet urine?
  • Norann P Norann P on Mar 23, 2012
    is th@ a driveway cause it looks like it could be from years of a car pipe. what comes out of it the pipe I mean.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 23, 2012
    Norann, the concrete you see is a City of Atlanta sidewalk.
  • D. G D. G on Mar 23, 2012
    At first look I would say a large male dog.
  • Diana S Diana S on Mar 23, 2012
    cats regularly pee there!
  • I would also guess that the same "neighbor" is walking his large dog past and the dog pees in the precise same spot each time....
  • K S K S on Mar 23, 2012
    Call your Extension office and find out how to send a sample to their plant science lab. Here in Michigan you can have a diagnostic test for about $20.00. Many times an Extension horticulture expert can diagnose it without the sample going to the lab. You can email pics too - if the expert is not in your local office.
  • John H John H on Mar 23, 2012
    it died....heres your
  • John H John H on Mar 23, 2012
    probably soil PH....have it checked, and appoligize for the first post, couldn't help myself....take a sample to your local nursery..
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 23, 2012
    This has been a fun mystery to try and solve. The homeowners answered some questions that I asked. They have had no chemicals sprayed on their yard at all, so that rules out misapplication by anyone that was supposed to be there. This doesn't rule out malicious spraying. I also sent photos to a large wholesale nursery. I talked with my salesperson this afternoon, and the whole office has been discussing it and they are not sure either. The photos were even forwarded to other growers and vendors, and there is still no good answer, other than someone may have sprayed something, or possibly exhaust damage , but that would have required a vehicle to have been parked on the sidewalk, and slowly moving along leaving the trail of dead foliage.
  • Sherrie S Sherrie S on Mar 23, 2012
    I had something like that happen. It turned out that my neighbor's landscaper used some chemical to kill weeds on my neighbor's side of my hedge. My side still looked good but it took a long time for the whole hedge to look good again.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 23, 2012
    Sherrie, the homeowner made a similar comment, saying that a neighbor's yard guy sometimes seems to spray very haphazardly. Of course, someone would have had to walk down the sidewalk purposefully spraying the front of her hedge, as it is facing the street.
  • Kelly S Kelly S on Mar 24, 2012
    My s.w.a.g. would be dog or cat urinefor the large area. Malicious mischief by kids on bikes riding on the sidewalk holding a stick out could have caused the line through the hedge. The damge could be be caused by seperate incidents. Laurel will come come back. It's very hardy.
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 24, 2012
    @Kelly S. you may be right on it being separate events. I know that much of the large dead area is completely dead back to within a couple feet of the ground. It will require pruning to remove the dead growth, and then will require time for the laurel to grow back and fill in the areas. I think I will will be near this house again in the upcoming week, and I can look closer at the long line, to see if there is any physical damage along the line, or if it appears to be only foliage dieback. That may narrow it down. Since we focus solely on design/installation of custom landscapes and gardens and are not a maintenance company, I am not usually tested with such a strange challenge as this hedge.
  • Meem Kaplan Meem Kaplan on Jun 24, 2015
    As a side comment, my dear old dad (a professional landscaper who had spent time working at the Oakland Gardens in Oakland CA back in the 50's) told me to trim hedges narrower at the top as making them totally vertical blocks the sunlight. He said to always taper them wider at the base. I've always done that and never had thin looking hedges or die-off at the bottom. Natural growth tapers this way so the sun can reach the entire tree yet so many people make them vertical or even reverse the natural tendency and have the top wider than the bottom.