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Mr. Smarty Plants - Browning leaves on non-native Burford holly

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Friday - August 22, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Transplants
Title: Browning leaves on non-native Burford holly
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have several dwarf Burford hollies whose leaves are browning. The individual leaves have colors of green, dark brown to light brown extending from the stem. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

Ilex cornuta (USDA Forest Service), Burford Holly, is a non-native perennial evergreen shrub. Since it is sometimes referred to as "Chinese" holly, we are assuming that the natural origin is in China or other parts of Asia. They grow best in rich, well-drained, slightly acid soil. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we recommend the use of plants native to North America and to the area in which they are being grown, because they will be better adapted to the environment, needing less water, fertilizer and maintenance. However, we will try to help you out with some information.

Tea scale (North Carolina Cooperative Extension) is one of the pests that can cause similar symptoms. It apparently originated the same place as the Burford hollies. China and Japan, and was imported into the United States on Camellias.

Aphids (Virginia Cooperative Extension). Light infestations are usually not harmful to plants, but higher aphid populations cause leaf curl, wilting, stunting of shoot growth as well as general decline in plant vigor.

You didn't say when you had planted the bushes. If it was fairly recently, they might be suffering from transplant shock. In which case, trimming off the upper 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant, leaving as many green leaves as possible for nutrition should be your first step. Next, we have a clue in the fact that this plant prefers acid soil, and we all know that in Austin, it's way alkaline. Try working some compost or other organic material in around the roots of the plants, then mulch with shredded bark compost or pine needles. These will not only help the texture and drainage of the soil, but add to the acidity. Now, stick a hose deep down in the soil and let it dribble water slowly until water appears on the surface. If the water stays more than half an hour or so, you have poor drainage, but the continued use of organic material and mulch should begin to address that. And,of course,we always have the fact that this has been a long, difficult, dry Summer in Central Texas and everything, including people, seems to be turning brown and curling. If none of these appear to be the problem, we suggest you contact the Travis County Extension Office, in hopes they will be aware of similar problems in the area and have recommendations.

 

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