Holly Bush die-off
I have a holly bush in the shrubbery plot on the east side of my house. It was put in by the builder when I bought the home ~17 years ago, and has grown to about 12 feet tall. It has been healthy up to this spring, when I noticed that the lower branches were totally browning out and the rest of the plant was suffering yellowing of leaves and thinning. It flowered normally this spring. There are no bugs on it that I can see. I have mulched and applied fertilizer twice a year. Any ideas of what is happening, and how to correct it? I live in Piney Orchard in Odenton, MD
The holly in your photo looks like it was subject to winter burn. Many hollies in MD have been affected by winter damage. At this point the old foliage should drop and new foliage may emerge. The foliage can be slow to develop. It is possible some of the branches may be dead. Scratch the branches and look for green tissue. If you see it then the branches may be viable. Otherwise prune. See our website for more information on winter damage. http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/winter-damage-trees-and-shrubs
Also, established trees and shrubs usually do not benefit from fertilization. Mature trees also do not need fertilizer because as trees age and mature the growth process slows down. In the landscape, woody plants receive nutrients from lawn fertilizer if their roots are adjacent to or growing in turf areas. And nutrients are provided by decomposing organic matter such as fallen leaves, decaying mulch, and minerals in the soil. Overfertilization can make the plants susceptible to sucking insects.
A reason to fertilize is if you notice poor growth, leaf yellowing, etc. Fertilize according to a soil test. Results will give pH and nutrient deficiencies. http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/soils/soil-testing