Is this California Pepper Doomed?

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te tat do
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Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » December 28th, 2021, 3:16 pm

So this tree is roughly 25-30 years old, thrived for many years and is located growing on a slope, it is growing right next to a very tall eucalyptus tree.

Probably about 5 years ago, it got attacked by a woodpecker, which did quite a bit of damage to the bark but the tree, for the longest time seemed unfazed by it, it kept growing and thriving. About a year ago, after a major wind storm, i noticed most of its leaves dropped off and it looked quite bare. Because it is located on a slope, and the slope doesnt have much foliage, I didnt irrigate it that often and it seemed to thrive fine like that for years. My gardner suggested that it might be drying out, so I got a deep root watering stick (the kind that is 2 feet long and attaches to a hose) and proceeded to deep water the tree through out the hot southern california summer. I pruned many of the suckers coming off the main trunk and it started showing much more growth from the trunk.

It seem to respond and started growing some new foliagem but still looked quite weak throughout the summer. There was new grown but many branches still were bare.

Fast forward to now, we are in winter and I started noticing die back from the top of the tree, little by little the leaves turned brown and dropped off. I'm noticing this white substance oozing from the woodpecker damaged bark and all the new foliage is dropping off. However I still see new growth coming off the main trunk int he form of small sprouts and possibly suckers.

I was suspecting possibly armarilla root root, but it is located literally inches from that tall eucalyptus, and that tree is thriving. I have stopped the deep watering as we are now getting tons of rain.

There were two fo these trees on my slope, one died in 2018 in a similar fashion and I cut it down, but I never figured out what killed it. Looks like this tree is going to meet the same fate.

I went up on the slope and tried breaking a coupe of the dead looking twigs, and i expected them to be dry and snap but they didnt, they feel rotted.

Can this tree be helped? Saved? I'm happy to provide any other details or pictures.

Here's some pictures I took


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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » December 28th, 2021, 11:14 pm

I'd suggest a specialist in these trees (I'd also suggest going straight to an actual specialist if the tree is important to you rather than wasting time on any other forum because you're going to find a lot of people who will shoot at the answer without actually knowing crap unless somebody can give you a definitive answer offhand; I speak from frustrated experience and pointer-outer-of-bullcrappers here. If it's an easy-to-replace tree in your area, or not of great concern to you, then by all means).

One datum of note is the sheer age of the tree; at 25-30 years old, you're at the maximum normal age of the tree, which is around 30 years. It's a venerable tree that's now taken wind damage, and where a woodpecker's been hunting insects in the wood. Unless the woodpecker was building a nest or attracting a mate (it doesn't look like either), the tree was already stressed by the insects).

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » December 29th, 2021, 11:34 pm

thanks for the advice. Do pepper trees really have a lifespan as mentioned? I had no idea

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » December 30th, 2021, 1:42 pm

Unfortunately, yes, they're amongst the short-lived trees. It does vary, with lifespans from 30 to 150 years (I can't tell if that's an actual California Pepper [longer-lived] or the Brazilian Pepper as I'm not a practiced eye and don't have closeups of the leaves). If one next to it already died, it's not unlikely that this one is now suffering from the same problems.

Your local extension office should certainly be able to assist you directly in diagnosing and treating the tree, and they'll also be free or really, really cheap. Given the woodpecker, I do suspect an insect issue, and they're certainly subject to disease problems as well...

If it's any consolation, the eucalyptus it's next to should live another two hundred years...

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » December 30th, 2021, 2:46 pm

MorpheusPA wrote:
December 30th, 2021, 1:42 pm
Unfortunately, yes, they're amongst the short-lived trees. It does vary, with lifespans from 30 to 150 years (I can't tell if that's an actual California Pepper [longer-lived] or the Brazilian Pepper as I'm not a practiced eye and don't have closeups of the leaves). If one next to it already died, it's not unlikely that this one is now suffering from the same problems.

Your local extension office should certainly be able to assist you directly in diagnosing and treating the tree, and they'll also be free or really, really cheap. Given the woodpecker, I do suspect an insect issue, and they're certainly subject to disease problems as well...

If it's any consolation, the eucalyptus it's next to should live another two hundred years...
good to know, when you say extension office? Are you referring to a community college or something like that?

For sure the tree is a california pepper. I had 2 brazillian peppers in my front yard that died to Armarilla root root a few years ago, one sprouted a new tree from the root system and now now quite large but the other one never did.

Here's another pic of my tree from my bedroom window to give you an idea of what it looks like currently. You will see the eucalyptus sprouted a sucker/branch that runs through the pepper tree as well. I'm letting it grow.

Im so sad. I HATE losing trees...


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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » December 30th, 2021, 10:00 pm

Yikes, yeah, that's not looking fantastic, although I love the xeriscaping in your back yard. An extension office would be your County Horticultural Extension Office (usually through your local university) who will have people who will do work for cheap or free (you pay them with your taxes). You should be able to look that up on Google with "(Your County) California Horticultural Extension Office"

Mine's actually through Penn State University and about fifteen minutes from my house. They're infinitely helpful and inexpensive. Call ahead these days with Omicron raging to check on hours, accessibility, and so on. Samples will be required, along with good closeups and photos of any issues.

I have my suspicions, but I'm only guessing (Amarilla Root Rot again), and don't really know well how to slow or stop it. Let's let the experts help you out locally.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » December 31st, 2021, 1:13 pm

Thanks for your help, I will look around for my local extension office for sure. What's weird is the tree has a bunch of suckers sprouting but the rest of it is dying back....

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » January 2nd, 2022, 10:04 pm

Y'know, they sometimes do that when they're going down, or having problems in another part of the tree but one section is fine. You might-could cut one of those (use green wood, not where it's gone brown and hard), soak it in rooting hormone, and plant it in potting soil. If there's no fungal infection in the tree, it might be a nice daughter for somewhere.

Some trees and shrubs root easily. Most do not. But it's always a fun experiment and not expensive.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » March 4th, 2022, 2:38 pm

So update on this tree
I had an arborist come in January and take a look, he mentioned that the tree had a good chance of survival if we pruned it, watered it regularly and injected it with some fertilizer.

Went ahead and did all that and spent a fortune. Thinking that the money I spent would be cheaper than it would cost to plant a equivalent sized tree.

After the treatment, he told me to water it thoroughly. I used one of those deep root watering wands and ran a good amount of water to it, or so I thought. Turns out the hose was kinked in the hose reel and didnt flow nealry as much water as I thought, though it did get some.


Well, it proceeded to drop all its leaves and more of its branches died back. It looks completely dead but it is sprouting a few tiny bits of growth here and there.

I do think it is doomed, and Im sad.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » March 8th, 2022, 8:19 am

Sorry about that. But yeah, I'm not sure where that advice came from. Stimulating a dying tree often just seems to kill them faster.

If you want to give watering it deeply another whirl, that might not be taken amiss, and very late winter/extremely early spring isn't a bad time to do so. It might help. It might just kill it even faster...

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » June 7th, 2022, 1:37 pm

just an update on my treated pepper. It hung on for a few months. I saw some new growth in April on the top of one of the branches, way at the top.

Then it all dried up and died. The tree is dead other than a few suckers coming off the lower part of the trunk.

What a waste. Absolutely disheartening and a waste of 800 dollars for pruning and injections. Sad sad sad.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » June 8th, 2022, 2:50 pm

Durn. Sorry about that.

However, if there are a few suckers, you might be able to transplant one or more of those (with some roots) to take a clone-daughter of it and grow that. I propagate my lilacs that way, but you do need to be able to get some living root systems.

Lilacs are bulletproof; stick in soil, water, stand back or they'll pop you on the chin as they shoot up. In the case of the California Pepper, I might suggest potting them up until fall (or until rootbound), then transplanting them once you've given them a monitored, stable, always-slightly-moist environment for the summer. Some trees do this well. Some don't.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » June 8th, 2022, 8:50 pm

Well to your point, this same tree dropped a few seeds that germinated and started growing right under the tree. theyre about 4-5 inches tall right now. I carefully dug them up with all the soil around the roots remaining and re-potted then a few weeks ago. they survived and are growing.

But i'll have to wait 10-15 years before these guys are the same size :(

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by MorpheusPA » June 9th, 2022, 11:32 am

You'd be shocked and surprised what you can do with a whip (a just-sprouted tree, 1 to 2 years old).

Trees aren't heavy feeders, particularly the dry-weather trees, and are susceptible to root rot (particularly the dry-weather trees). But if you keep them slightly-damp at all times, and feed with about quarter-rate water-soluble food (dealer's choice, I like Miracle-Gro, but whatever), during the growth period, those trees will shoot up like nobody's business.

I took Thuja from 2' to 25' in three years, well faster than normal growth rates. All my trees have outpaced the neighbors', even though I've made no special effort to do so, just because they get fed with the lawn...which is much better fed than the neighbors'.

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Re: Is this California Pepper Doomed?

Post by te tat do » June 10th, 2022, 9:54 pm

this is good to know! i'll post a picture of my pots. the two i potted 3 weeks ago are doing good, i'll give them miracle grow. i water them every few days and they seem happy.

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