Tree Leaves Didn’t Drop In Winter: Reasons Why Leaves Did Not Fall Off A Tree

Tree Leaves Didn’t Drop In Winter: Reasons Why Leaves Did Not Fall Off A Tree

By: Teo Spengler

Whether or not your deciduous tree leaves turn brilliant colors at summer’s end, their complex mechanism to drop those leaves in autumn is truly amazing. But early cold snaps or extra-long warm spells can throw off a tree’s rhythm and prevent leaf drop. Why didn’t my tree lose its leaves this year? That’s a good question. Read on for an explanation of why your tree hasn’t lost its leaves on schedule.

Why Didn’t My Tree Lose its Leaves?

Deciduous trees lose their leaves every fall and grow new leaves each spring. Some usher out the summer with fiery fall displays as the leaves turns yellow, scarlet, orange, and purple. Other leaves simply brown and fall to the ground.

Particular types of trees sometimes lose their trees at the same time. For example, once a hard frost sweeps through New England, all the ginkgo trees in the region promptly drop their fan-shaped leaves. But what if one day you look out the window and realize that it’s mid-winter and your tree hasn’t lost its leaves. The tree leaves didn’t drop in winter.

So why didn’t my tree lose its leaves, you ask. There are a few possible explanations for why a tree didn’t lose its leaves and both involve the weather. Some trees are more prone to leave their foliage attached than others, which is referred to as marcescence. These include trees like oak, beech, hornbeam, and witch hazel shrubs.

When a Tree Hasn’t Lost its Leaves

To understand why leaves did not fall off a tree, it helps to know why they usually fall in the first place. It’s a complex procedure that few people truly comprehend.

As winter approaches, tree leaves stop producing chlorophyll. That exposes other colors of pigment, like reds and oranges. At that point, the branches also begin to develop their “abscission” cells. These are cells that scissor off the dying leaves and seal up the stem attachments.

But if the weather drops early in a sudden cold snap, it can kill the leaves immediately. This takes the leaf color directly from green to brown. It also prevents the development of the abscission tissue. This essentially means the leaves are not scissored off the branches but instead remain attached. Don’t worry, your tree will be fine. The leaves will fall at some point, and new leaves will grow in normally the following spring.

A second possible reason that your tree didn’t lose its leaves in fall or winter is the warming global climate. It’s the dropping temperatures in autumn and early winter that cause the leaves to slow the manufacture of chlorophyll. If temperatures stay warm well into winter, the tree never starts making abscission cells. That means that the scissor mechanism isn’t developed in the leaves. Rather than dropping with a cold snap, they simply hang on the tree until they die.

Excess nitrogen fertilizer can have the same result. The tree is so focused on growing that it fails to prepare for winter.

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Why Didn't My Tree Lose Its Leaves - What To Do When A Tree Hasn't Lost Its Leaves In Winter - garden

Lovely tree - I do hope you can cure its problem. (Yellow leaves are usually a sign that the plant is too dry.)

The picture indicates that although you have leaf drop, there doesn't appear to be any dieback. I don't think that lack of water would be a problem as they thrive in dry soil. Evergreen trees do lose there leaves so can you see any new buds with leaves emerging? They also thrive in poor soil so fertilizer should not be a problem. The virus Xylella fastidiosa will not have reached Japan so it wouldn't be that. I would leave things as they are.

First, dig gently around the trunk, to see if it was planted too deep. The topmost major roots should be just barely underground.
Next, what is the drainage like there? If there is bedrock, heavy clay, or a hardpan layer underneath the tree, the roots may be damaged.
Also, what kind of feeding have you been doing, and how often--Olives don't need a lot of food, but they still need some, especially if this is one of the warmer parts of Japan.
When you water, how do you do that? When and where watering is necessary, Olives like deep, infrequent soakings. The water should penetrate at least 70 cm into the soil, and, maybe, once every 6-8 weeks in Japan.

Thanks everyone for the advice. I dug gently around the trunk and found a fairly thick root about 2 cm below the surface so I don't think the tree is planted too deep. With regards drainage, the sandy soil and mulch mix goes down about 1 meter, beneath which there is hard, compacted soil, possibly clay (I remember it being extremely hard to dig out which is why I wanted to have at least a meter of soft soil above it). Do you think the hard soil might be acting as a barrier to prevent water draining away? I assumed lack of water was the problem rather than the other way round because the leaves look very dry, but I imagine water logged roots could have the same effect by preventing moisture being transported to the leaves. If there is poor drainage this would have been compounded by planting the tree just before the rainy season during which it rained a lot for about six weeks. After that I watered the tree about once a week with a watering can, giving it about 12 liters of water each time as recommended by the gardener because the summer months get very hot here with maximum temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius. As for feeding, the original soil mix contained mulch and some pellets of slow release fertilizer. This Spring I spread a new layer of mulch over the top soil and added some more pellets of slow release fertilizer just below the surface but away from the trunk. I should also add that I sprayed the tree with a pesticide last summer and this spring. The pesticide was a standard pre-mixed type purchased at a garden center so in theory it should not have damaged the tree. Interestingly, although the leaves are in poor condition there are quite a few olives on the branches and they look very healthy.


Premature leaf drop is a sign that there is something wrong with your new tree. This is when the tree begins to lose its leaves earlier than normal for the species. If you think your tree is dead, recall whether or not you noticed the leaves falling during the summer, before the typical autumn drop. Dead, crunchy leaves remaining on the tree may signal that the tree is dying or dead. In general, leaves fall off the branches of trees, and dead leaves don't remain hanging on the branches. This isn't a sure sign that the tree is dead, however, as a dead tree may also drop all of its leaves. If the leaves appear healthy, your tree is alive.

The twigs and branches of your young tree can offer even more insight into its health. Take a twig from your tree. If it snaps off easily, that branch is dead or weak if it's pliable and takes some effort to pull off, your tree is still alive. If the inside of the twig is brown and dry, that branch is dead or dying and may show that the rest of the tree is dead or dying. You can use your fingernail to scratch away the bark, as well, and see whether the inside is brown or green.


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dizzy, how strange because I noticed the same thing only yesterday about my olive tree which is in a cool outhouse. I shall be very interested to what replies you get.

Where are you based. roughly? I am here in Cambridge, UK.

Olives are fairly resilient. My 2 are in an unheated greenhouse with a layer of fleece wrapped around, I did this last winter as well.

Basically the CH is not doing them any favours. I looked to see where you are based to give further help but you have not recorded it.

Rosa, as I said my one is in an unheated outhouse so don't understand why its leaves are dropping. Should it be wrapped in fleece like yours?

This is a really useful link on their care

I think dizzylizzy's is being spoilt-mine has been in a pot outside for the past 5 years- and has survived all winters

I would stop all watering -it is a mediterranean plant after all-move it to the coolest place in the house-with luck it will be OK

At 7 foot it must have been an expensive purchase I guess- but has been having too much of the good life

Hi- I live on the outskirts of York in the country wher it is exposod and often has frost down to -17 c, The backgarden which is north-facing is still frosty from this morning. have lost hebes in 2010 with the cold weather so won't risk the Olive tree. Do have an echium pinnan which hasn't yet flowered and has a trunk now of 2 inches across. Overwintered in mum's conservatory last year but was only 7 inches high then- now 5 foot, Think I may have to do something- planted near the house and porch south-facing- seems to be in new growth now. Did recover from the December frosts but may be pushing it to leave it unprotected as more frost is predicted.. Can't lose it yet as I haven't seen it flower yet and believe it is a biennial once it has flowered?? Is about 5 feet high and the top seems to have sproutted growth over the last few weeks. One of my cherry trees is flowering and a red penstemon is still in flower from last year.


6 Things Your Plant's Leaves Are Trying to Tell You

Yellow at the edges? Put away the watering can, please.

No, it can't talk. But that doesn't mean your plant isn't communicating with you.

The plant is: Thirsty.

Give greenery a new lease on life by watering until the soil is moist, but not saturated. Liza Wheeler, plant expert and blogger at Good to Grow, points out that there's often a lag between the problem at hand and leaves changing color – but that doesn't mean you can't fix the issue.

The plant is: Thirsty.

"Underwatered plants won't put out new growth," Wheeler says. If your plant is looking a little on the skimpy side, or hasn't changed much since you bought it, you might need to water more often.

The plant is: Overwatered.

Tovah Martin, garden expert and author of The Indestructible Houseplant, attributes the sudden ombre look to overwatering. "Water less frequently, but don't withhold water entirely," she says. Obviously, your plant still needs a drink, but it doesn't need to be flooded.

The plant is: Overwatered.

"Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants," Wheeler says. It's not just a heavy-handed approach to the watering can that does it, either. Check to make sure that your plant pot has adequate drainage. A repurposed vessel that doesn't have holes in the bottom might mean too much water is holed up inside.

The plant is: Hungry.

"You should perhaps provide more frequent fertilizer," Martin says. For instance, if you noticed the leaves of a gardenia (like this one) looking pale, it might need more iron.

Martin also suggests graduating the plant to a larger container when you spot paleness. But the promotions should be gradual (increase the container size by two inches at a time), so curb your enthusiasm.

The plant is: Dying for some sunlight.

Just like how office workers get weird from a lack of natural light, so do sun-loving plants (like this wobbly tomato seedling on Everything Is Homemade).

Martin says to relocate the pot to a sunny window, stat. If you've been cursed with a lack of a view, it might be time to gift the sun-starved plant to an understanding friend.


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