Help! My Barbados Cherry is Dying

“I have a Barbados cherry tree that I just bought from a fast-growing tree nursery, and it’s small and dying. When I got the plant, all the leaves were gone, and it’s just not growing. I added seaweed and some fish emulsion, but it just won’t grow. There is green when I scratch the stem. What can I do to bring it back?” Question from Carol of Joaquin, Texas

Answer: This a concern because the leaves of Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra) are evergreen, so it should have had leaves when it arrived from the nursery. But, it’s a good sign that you see green when you scratch the stem. It may still have enough life left in it to survive.

Because this subtropical shrub/tree is not reliably hardy where you live (USDA Hardiness Zone 8), I would plant it in a pot with very well-drained potting soil and keep the soil just moist. In the wild, it grows in very dry soils, so too much water will kill it. I suggest Black Gold Cactus Mix with a little added peat moss.

If your tree has enough life in it, the little guy should start putting out leaves and new growth within a couple of weeks. If it doesn’t, be sure to get a replacement. Barbados cherry makes a nice potted specimen, and I’ve never eaten the fruit, but it’s supposed to be tart and tasty.

To learn more about this South Texas native tree/shrub, check out this webpage from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Barbados cherry is a great wildlife plant because its delicate pink flowers feed butterflies and edible fruits feed songbirds.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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