En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - August 10, 2008

From: Tulsa, OK
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Propagation, Watering, Shrubs
Title: Hollies not retaining leaves in Tulsa
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have Little Red Hollies that have lost their leaves, some areas being bald. They are also not full - you can see through them. These were planted in this condition Spring of '08 and have been watered and fertilized. Do I need to shear them this fall to encourage new growth to fill in the bald spots and make the plant fuller?

ANSWER:

The Little Red Holly is a hybrid, referred to as Ilex x "Little Red". From this Mississippi State University Office of Agricultural Communications Holly Hybrid Group Gains Two Varieties we learned that "Little Red" is a hybrid of the North American native holly Ilex opaca (American holly), growing to a shorter total height than the standard holly.

We're a little concerned about your description of the condition these shrubs were in when they were planted in the Spring. At that time of year, nursery stock should have been fresh and looking good. Was this something you bought, maybe on sale, late in the season, or perhaps something a landscaper planted for you? Plants that have been in their pots for too long can become rootbound, their roots wrapping around and around and losing the ability to put any new rootlets out into the surrounding soil when the plants are planted in the ground. Hollies seem to be particularly bad about that. When a plant has become rootbound, it needs to have some clipping of roots in the ball before it is placed in the ground. You can be pretty brutal and snip through roots, and then plant and water the bush. Or the plant may have been kind of sickly in the first place, and that's how it ended up on the Sale table, if, indeed that's what happened. Those are just speculations and, at any rate, you can't go back and replant the bush-that would do it more damage than leaving it as it is.

Go to the branches that are bare of leaves and, with your thumbnail, scrape a little "skin" off the branch. If there is still green material under that bark, the branch is still alive. Cut back any deadwood to the point at which you find greenwood with your scraping. You can wait until it cools off a little to do that, or go ahead and do it now. Don't do any other trimming, leaving all live wood and green leaves on the bush to continue to nourish the bush. Stick a hose down in the dirt around the bush and let a slow dribble of water trickle in until water reaches the surface. Do this every other day. If water stands a half hour or more on the surface, you have clay soil and poor drainage, so you will need to cut back on the water, and do it more often. You don't want to drown your roots, either. If possible, work some compost or other organic material in around the roots to improve the drainage. Then, mulch the roots with shredded hardwood bark, to hold in moisture, and protect from heat and cold. As this mulch decomposes, it will put more organic material into the soil, helping the bush even more. In the early Spring, add some balanced fertilizer to the soil, and the nitrogen in it should help to encourage new leaves. If it does begin to leaf out and look better, you can assume that whatever was holding it back, roots or bad drainage, has been addressed and the shrub should recover.

The pictures below are of Ilex opaca (American holly) itself, not of "Little Red." This is just to give you an idea of what the healthy leaves should look like.


Ilex opaca

Ilex opaca

 

 

More Propagation Questions

Repotting from 4-inch pots
April 18, 2006 - Hello. A week ago I purchased some native plants at the wildflower center plant sale. I would like to know how to repot these seedlling native plants. They are in 4" pots right now. I have as follows...
view the full question and answer

Growing butterfly weed as a girl scout project
July 30, 2012 - We have a group of girl scouts who want to sell 'crafts' at a farmers market. I am wanting to steer the moms and girls in a different direction. I was wondering if you think that butterfly weed woul...
view the full question and answer

Reversion of maroon bluebonnets back to blue
March 01, 2007 - In the fall, I bought a flat of Texas bluebonnets. They are blooming now, and it turns out they are actually maroon bluebonnets! Which is really too bad, because I want blue bluebonnets. Do you know i...
view the full question and answer

Varieties of Ceanothus suitable for Illinois
September 07, 2012 - Ceanothus Velutinus is the smell of western Montana, my home, to me, and I have relocated to Illinois. I miss it so much that whenever I go home I bring back a jar of ceanothis leaves and keep th...
view the full question and answer

Oakleaf hydrangea in Indiana
November 18, 2010 - I was given a start of an oak leaf hydrangea by a generous friend from her garden. I have been searching for "what to expect" about this plant. I planted it last year and it grew..this year..but d...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center