Soft Touch Hollies Slowly Declining

Asked April 30, 2019, 7:58 AM EDT

I have 3 Soft Touch Hollies in my garden that borders a cement sidewalk. Over the past two years or so, I’ve seen the hollies start to thin out and some branches have died. I do see new growth at the base of the plant. The area doesn’t dry out completely. I amended the soil when I planted the hollies, thinking that by reducing reduce the amount of heavy sand at the bottom of the garden bed, I was permanently fixing the drainage issue. Could it be a root rot problem? How can I tell? Ive also read that It could be an iron deficiency. Is that caused by the alkaline soil? I sprinkled Holly Tone around them a month or so ago. Maybe I should move them to another location? What would you suggest as a small evergreen to accent the end of a garden bed next to a sidewalk? Thank you for your help. I love these hollies and want to see them recover. Andrea

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

Japanese hollies are very popular shrubs but they can be finicky sometimes. They prefer to grow in light, moist, well-drained soil, slightly acid soils. They are sun or shade adaptable. They do not like heavy, clay soil that stays moist for prolonged periods of time. Last year we had a record-breaking amount of rainfall which really kept areas very wet. This most definitely can be a root problem as they are prone to a root rot disease. When infected shrubs experience a slow decline with sections of the shrub dying. They look like they are struggling and do not grow well. They eventually need to be replaced. If they have root rot transplanting them to another location will not save them. They might do okay initially but then will decline.
Some replacement shrubs to consider are Blue star juniper, Compacta or shamrock inkberry holly, Japanese skimmia (need a male cultivar and female shrubs for berries), sweetbox (Sarcococca) or juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’).
You may want to consider testing the soil to check the pH.
The following is the link to our soil testing information,