The Q&A Archives: Dead patches on holly

Question: Some of my two-year-old Dwarf Burford holly bushes have brown patches on the leaves and black splotches on the stems. Can I correct this problem? Lynn Kessler Alexandria, VA

Answer: Desiccation during winter often results in dead patches on broad-leaved evergreens, says Bonnie Appleton, ornamental shrub expert at Virginia State University's Hampton Roads Agricultural Experiment Station in Virginia Beach. A combination of frozen soil and drying winds causes the injury, she says. Burford hollies are evergreen, which means they keep respiring during the winter so are taking up water from the ground. If the ground freezes deeply, much less water is available to the roots. When the plants can't get enough water, tissue dies. The damage occurs first on leaves that get the most direct sun. Bushes that are in either a windy spot or one that gets a little warmer than average (typically near the western wall of a building) are more likely to suffer this damage. Your plants have only been in the ground two seasons, so I'd recommend moving them to a better location - out of the winter's prevailing winds and away from sunny microclimates, says Appleton. Keep the plants well wateredgoing into winter and mulch with pine bark to conserve moisture and keep the ground warmer. This spring, prune limbs that show bark damage back to a place where the bark is sound. Dwarf Burford holly is borderline hardy in Alexandria, Appleton adds. But many fine evergreen hollies are fully hardy in your area. Similar in size to Dwarf Burford is the Blue series - Blue Boy, Blue Girl and others.

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