Curled Leaves on the Bushes

Earlier in the spring, I began to notice that many, but not all, of my bushes in the front yard (Dwarf Korean Lilacs,  Judd Viburnum, Boxwoods, Burning Bushes, Annabelle Hydrangea) were looking a bit unhealthy. Their leaves were oddly curling and looking dry, even though we’d had plenty of rain. The worst was one of the Burning Bushes and large sections of the lilacs.

Annabelle Hydrangea


Burning Bush


Dwarf Korean Lilac

Not knowing what to do, I called my tree and shrub caretaker to come and take a look. He diagnosed it as mealy bugs and mites, although I had trouble seeing what he saw.  Looking into it some more, it seems it could have also been related to any number of other pests, or even incorrect watering or fertilizing.  No matter the reason, it was clear from the symptoms that something was literally sucking the life out of the leaves and they needed to be treated or the shrubs could die. He recommended spraying with a pesticide/fungicide combo to cover all the bases. I don’t usually like spraying nonspecifically, but whatever the problem was it was affecting a number of specimen shrubs in my front yard that were already stressed from the harsh winter.  I had already lost one large burning bush to mites a couple of years back and I didn’t want to chance losing all these bushes this year, so went ahead with the sprays.

Just recently, I finally started to finally see some new healthy growth on the shrubs and no further damage.  Some of the curled leaves uncurled, others remained curled, but stayed green and didn’t appear to be any further damaged.  Crisis averted for this year.

annabelle hydrangea

Burning Bush


dwarf korean lilac

Have you ever seen anything like this?  Any suggestions as to the cause?

16 responses to “Curled Leaves on the Bushes

  1. I don’t think I have seen this kind of disfigurement. Your shrub expert may be right, I don’t know, though I’m a little suspicious since he wanted to spray insecticide and fungicide together that maybe he wasn’t so sure either.

    • I really searched for any other photos of shrubs with this kind of leaf curling and couldn’t find any. I did talk to them and their explanation was that it’s hard to reformulate their sprays for each customer. We all get a “broad spectrum” treatment that covers the most common ailments. Not great, but when you’ve invested all that time and money in so many shrubs, I guess I go with it. One or 2, I’d treat myself more judiciously.

  2. Stephi, things like this certainly are puzzling. Hope your shrubs do well from here on out. I’ve lost many shrubs through the years, usually during very dry years. It’s very frustrating. (Also, glad your zinnias worked well indoors!)

    • Very puzzling, especially when I can’t find anything similar on the web. My zinnias in a vase still look fabulous. Why didn’t I bring cuttings in sooner? Thanks for getting me past my phobias.

  3. Justin T. Bowen

    I am experiencing the exact same issue – and found your site while researching. Thanks for the pictures and info. I took some pictures tonight of my lilac on standard, and I’d like to send it to you to see if you think it’s the same thing. I just sprayed it with Orthonex to maybe try and slow whatever is going on.

    • I wasn’t able to find anyone other photos similar to what my leaves looked like. Interesting that you are having the same problem. I’d be interested in seeing your photos. You can email me at stephi @ So far, my bushes continue to look fine, except for the damage already done. Don’t know if orthenex will work or not. Hasn’t it been off the market for a few years?

  4. This is likely damage from broad leaf herbicide (possibly 2,4-D) applied to a nearby lawn. Plants outgrow the symptoms after receiving the non-lethal dose/exposure.

    • Wow, thank you! I had not considered that as a possibility, but it makes sense. Everything recovered nicely last year, and is still doing well this year.

    • Thank you for posting this. I have two burning bushes, both are about 15 years old and over 8′ tall. They are beautiful. We just noticed one of them appeared to be dying, not as many leaves and the leaves it had were curled up;I went to my local garden store/greenhouse and they thought it was a blight and that I should remove the plant and refrain from planting another for at least 7 years. Thanks to this post I realize it could be herbicide damage since we do have a lawn service and I just confirmed with them that they did apply a 2,4-D the last time they treated the lawn. Is there anything I need to do to save the plant or will it heal itself with time? Thank you for the information and I appreciate any advice you may have. Mary

      • There isn’t anything you can do to mitigate the damage. Only time will tell the long term impact and extent of the damage.

      • Hi Mary, I’m glad my post was able to help. It seems like a common problem but no one writes much about it. Like Jan said, there’s not much you can do but wait it out. If it’s any help, all my shrubs and hostas survived my incident and have looked great in the 2 years since. Try to keep them healthy and unstressed as the summer unfolds so they can put their energy into recovering. I hope they recover, let me know.

      • I should also ask whether you checked for something like mites. I did have a burning bush that got mites, but that issue was pretty obvious because you could see them and I continued to have worsening damage throughout the season. That’s also why the problem I had this time was so puzzling, I just couldn’t see anything wrong.

  5. I have the same problem as above with my burning bush. My husband has told me he did spray creeping Charlie next to it last year. I have halted him from pulling it out to see if it recovers. It is about 8 ft tall and has been always beautiful. I do have to other small ones that are completely dead that have to go… Will see what happens next year.

    • I wish you good luck! It’s so frustrating when a beautiful bush starts to fail. Mine have fully recovered. Be sure it gets plenty of water since it will certainly be under stress for a while.

  6. I have 4 Burning Bushes planted last spring 5 feet apart. No lawn service so no chemicals anywhere near applied. One of the bushes has very curled leaves. The other 3 look to be doing great. We had one of the wettest winters on record here in the Willamette Valley, Oregon so I am positive it’s not too dry. Maybe I should try the herbicide and fungicide mix?

    • Sorry to hear you’re having problems with your shrubs. The curled leaves seems to be a problem with lots of different causes. It probably wouldn’t hurt to try the treatment because all the wetness could be making it more susceptible to disease. Mildew, fungus etc all thrive in moisture. Also, is that one by chance lower, or planted differently causing it to be in a wetter spot? Maybe its roots are getting even wetter than the others and its showing its issues with the curled leaves. I’ve seen people report curled leaves from both dryness and wetness. Good luck and I’m curious how it turns out.

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