What's going on with our cherry laurel?
We have a number of cherry laurels in the front of our home that are approximately 12 years old and grow 4 to 4.5 feet high. We first noted in early spring 2015 that the leaves have been browning in “patches” on some of the bushes. The brown leaves have small holes in them, as if they were punched by a hole puncher. This started on only a couple of bushes and seems to be spreading to others. Most are in full sun for the majority of the year (winter, late fall, early spring). They are located against the house—stretching across the length of the front of the house. Some are in partial sun/shade. By early to mid-summer, they are in partial sun, as the crape myrtle trees in front of them come into full leaf. We don't seem to have any soil problems and have not used any pesticides or fertilizers.
Cherry laurels are susceptible to many leaf spot diseases. One is commonly called "shot hole" because the infected tissue dries up and falls out causing the tiny holes you describe. You'll notice the spots and the subsequent holes in your third photo.
Wet spring and early summer weather promotes this leaf spot. Rake up and dispose of infected leaves that fall off the plants in order to remove infected material.
Do not prune out branches with dead leaves unless the woody stem is really dead, not just the leaves. Live stems are flexible and bend without breaking. When you scratch the bark you should see green under it. If stems are alive, they should put out some new leaves.
The disease is not serious but causes cosmetic damage. Spraying with a fungicide is not practical as the spraying regimen begins when the new leaves emerge and continues every two weeks or so throughout the summer.