Bennetts Compact Holly help

Asked April 30, 2019, 3:09 PM EDT

I have several Bennetts Compact Holly shrubs (Japanese holly) that are well established (10 years). Last fall one of them developed what I think was leaf spot and despite treating with fungicide it died. I transplanted one of my other hollies to replace it, but it also developed leaf spot and died within weeks. I thought I might fare better in spring, so 2 weeks ago I transplanted another holly to the empty spot and after a week it developed brown spots on the leaves and now they are turning completely brown. I did not see any signs of root rot when I removed the dead hollies and I thoroughly cleaned up the area before transplanting. Can you tell me if this is leaf spot or transplant shock or some other problem? Is there anything I can do to save this holly? Thanks!

Worcester County Maryland

5 Responses

Japanese holly decline and die mostly because of root rot not from foliar leaf spot diseases. In those ten years that they have been planted has anything changed around them? Have you always used the stone mulch? Last year into this past winter we had a record amount of rainfall keeping soils wet. J.hollies do not like 'wet feet' and stone mulch will keep the soil even moister. The hollies in your photo do not look like they can be saved. Testing the soil to check the pH may be a good idea.
The following is information on soil testing from our website,


Nothing has changed around the hollies and I have always used stone mulch. I have included a picture showing a wider view of the area and the surrounding hollies that are still thriving. Besides testing the soil, what can I do to "fix" this area so that I can plant another Japanese holly in this spot and not have it succumb to root rot? Thanks for your help!

We do not recommend planting another Japanese holly in that area. There is likely a drainage issue and disease inoculum in the soil there that these type of plants are susceptible to.

What is the utility marking and cover there? Any issues with that?


The utility marking is for the water main shutoff and was marked prior to me digging in the area. There are no current issues with that. However 3 years ago I had to have the shut off replaced- although they did not remove my holly to do it perhaps it caused the soil to settle and affected the drainage of the area around my holly.
Is there any way I could fix the drainage issue? Perhaps adding good draining soil to build up that area to help the water drain better?
If I am able to fix the drainage issue, could I replant another Holly there? I have the same Hollies on either side of the dying one and they are thriving so the disease inoculum is not affecting them. Thanks for your help!

Drainage can be improved by filling low areas with topsoil. Grade the filled-in depression so that water will not stagnate. If you decide to replant a Japanese holly there, you might try placing it 12-18" away from where the current one is planted -- again to avoid any possible infection if there is root rot inoculum present in the soil. We cannot make any guarantees that a new Japanese holly will not have the same issue. Sometimes fungal root rot pathogens can come in on nursery stock. You can amend the soil, test a sample (Japanese hollies like a soil pH between 5.0 and 6.5) and then try again.