Plant Health Alert – Dying Limbs on Hollies

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Dead Holly Limbs
Nellie R. Stevens holly with dying limbs

There are limbs dying on hollies locally. This damage is prevalent on Nellie R Stevens Hollies. I see it in my daily driving all over the place over the last few years.

When we see this type of damage, single limbs dying randomly in a plant, we know that something is girdling the stems. Girdling means that something is killing the tissue in the stem. Then the rest of the limb dies.
Anything that cuts the water supply to a stem can causes the limb to die. It can be physical restriction such as an object wrapped around a stem. The problem can be chewing by animals. Other causes are insects or diseases.
Animals – I have seen squirrels strip the bark off of hollies causing this kind of damage.
squirrel damage tree

Squirrels sometimes strip bark off of limbs.

European hornet damage holly

European hornet damage on holly.

European hornet damage holly

European hornet damage on holly.

hornet damage 2
Fungal Infections – Fungal infections can enter a cracked stem and girdle the stem, killing it. I suspect that in many cases the damage we are seeing is a stem girdling canker fungus. Inspect the dying limbs and see if the stem is swollen and cracked. If so, it is a canker.
canker on stem

A fungal canker on a branch.

Cold damage – I chatted with a nursery grower recently and he believes a lot of the dead branches we are seeing in hollies are from cold damage. It was  -10 degrees F here for two nights in a row in December. For sure, I have seen hundreds of plants damaged by the cold. Why would the cold damage just individual branches die on hollies while whole plants died in other species? That I cannot answer. But I have inspected some of these plants and there is no other sign of damage, insects or disease.
potted hollies with cold damage

These potted hollies have dead branches that show no sign of disease, insects or other damage. I suspect cold damage is to blame.

Solutions – In most of these cases, there is little you can do. Stopping a squirrel is impossible short of lethal control. Unless you can find the hornet nest you can’t stop them. The fungi are not curable. Really the only thing you can do is to keep the plant healthy so that it resists damage and recovers quickly. Plant the right plant in the right place, plant it correctly and fertilize and water as needed. Finally, many times hollies have underlying problems that make them weak leading to disease susceptibility so look for signs of improper planting, wires or straps wrapped around the stem, etc. Often hollies are planted without removing the packaging material which can lead to plant health issues.
red maples with girdling straps

Nylon strap wrapped around trunk is left from planting.