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Mr. Smarty Plants - Hollies not retaining leaves in Tulsa

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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

 

 

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