The Q&A Archives: Yellowing & Dropping Leaves On Holly

Question: In October 1999 I planted two holly "Sky Pencils". In the past couple months the leaves at the top of both plants have turned light green to yellow and all of the leaves drop easily when the plants are touched. Please help.

Answer: Unless you find evidence of insects or disease, the usual cause of problems at the top of a shrub is a problem with the roots. You may have to do a little homework to find the cause of the root's distress. How were your shrubs planted? Did you dig a generous hole and fan the roots out in a natural fashion? (No extra points if you didn't remove the twine and burlap or the plastic pot!) Is the soil well draining? (Holly's hate to have constantly wet feet!) Have you watered faithfully every week (one-inch of water, applied slowly so it can trickle down and wet the entire rootmass). Are the shrubs getting adequate sunlight and good air circulation all around?

You can check the topmost branch for life by gently scraping away the bark. Green tissue means the plant is alive; brown tissue indicates it's dead. Keep scraping back until you find live material. Prune the shrubs back to live material and supply adequate water throughout the growing season. If there's life left in the roots, new shoots and leaves will develop.

Hope there's good news this spring!

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