Die-back disease on a holly?

Asked September 9, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT

This Nellie Stevens Holly was planted in the fall of 2014, approximately 10' going in the ground. This summer it had rapid die-back in the crown over about 4 weeks. I am attaching 2 photos. One is the plant from a distance to show the die-back. The second is a close-up of a very weird pattern on the bark, approximately where the disease is showing. Do you have any ideas what it is, and what we should do about it?

Anne Arundel County Maryland sapsucker damage trees nellie stevens top dieback

1 Response

Looks like the holly was not able to establish itself and does not sound like an insect or disease problem. This involves planting techniques and care of the plant. See our website for more information on planting trees and shrubs and look at the planting process and care.http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/trees-and-shrubs/concept-planting-maintenance
Also, These issues can also include drought, too much moisture, soil compaction, too much mulch, etc. See our publication on these problems. http://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/HG86%20Common%20Abio...
The second photo shows sapsucker damage on the trunk and this may have contributed to the decline. http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/woodpeckers-and-sapsuckers-0 The holly tree is a large tree. You did not mention if it was balled and burlapped or container grown. What was your planting technique? If container, Did you cut and spread the roots out before planting? If not, then this may be what you are dealing with. Container-grown plants sometimes become root bound with their roots tightly coiled around in the container. These plants need special treatment to loosen the roots when planted. If planted in this condition the roots may not establish themselves.
Container plants establish faster if you disturb the “around the pot” growth direction of the roots. Use a sharp knife or blade to cut four one-inch-deep cuts the length of the root ball. New roots will rapidly grow from the cut areas of the roots. Dig the planting hole deep enough to accommodate the plant with the top of the root ball level with, or just slightly above, ground level. Fill in soil around the root ball and firm the soil to eliminate air pockets.
Watering - If the plants were root bound in containers and the roots were not disturbed before planting, your watering technique may not be fast enough or be able to penetrate the root ball. You may need a hose to water deeply to penetrate the root ball. Probe with a screwdriver and check. You can check soil moisture of newly planted trees and shrubs at least once a week. Soil that is moist or damp to the touch is fine. If the soil begins to dry out, water the plant thoroughly. Do not overwater; however, you can easily drown newly planted trees and shrubs through too much tender loving care with the hose.
At this point, you may want to consider replacement. Otherwise, all you can do is prune dead wood and keep watered during dry periods and up until the ground freezes.