The Q&A Archives: what happened to my pyramidal japanese holly?

Question: I have a pyramidal japanese holly which I planted May '06. It did very well throughout the summer and into the winter. Around March, when it started to get a little warmer, half of it's leaves turned brown and fell off and all of it's berries fell off. Even now, it doesn't seem to be showing any signs of new life on that side of the plant. We have a chipmunk and a rabbit that I can't get rid of that enjoy chewing on my garden so I don't know if they had anything to do with my holly's decline. What, if anything could I do to bring this plant back and what could have happened to it?

Answer: Unfortunately, you did not include your town or state in your question so I do not know what area of the country you are gardening in. However, based on your description it sounds like this is related to winter stress. Oscillating temperatures such as occurred in many regions this spring can cause winter damage to the foliage and even dieback of twigs and branches. In addition, unseasonably cold temperatures can cause damage, particularly to newly planted shrubs and to those at the edge of their winter hardiness range. Winter damage often occurs on evergreens planted in windy or sunny sites, or less established plants such as this that are still developing their root systems. Too, a rabbit might have damaged the bark causing circulation problems within the shrub, or voles or chipmunks could have caused root damage with similar results. If the plant had a warranty you may want to contact your retailer where you purchased it. Otherwise, I would suggest you consult with your local county extension to be sure this is winter damage rather than a pest or disease issue and based on knowing that, determine how to proceed. In the meantime, you can top dress with compost, maintain a layer of organic mulch about two to three inches thick over the root area, and water as needed to keep the soil slightly moist (like a wrung out sponge.) You can also trim off any dead branches.

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