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We have two East Malatka Holly bushes in our flowerbed, which were only planted 5 months ago (they were in 15 gal pots, so already pretty large).

They have been doing well, until just the last week or two, when one of them has developed a large brown patch of dead leaves.

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I'm in Houston, Texas, and we've had temps north of 100 degrees for the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure if this is the cause, or something else.

I'm watering about 5 times a week. These beds have a drip system. The rest of the plants seems healthy and happy so it doesn't seem like it's over or under-watering.

We've had issues in these spots, though. We've gone through two sets of pyramid boxwoods in the same spots which exhibited similar issues.

Can anyone point me to what I should do, or look for, to diagnose the issue?

LOTS OF UPDATES:

Ok, I've done more investigation and watched how it's changing over time.

Yesterday, I noticed a section of leaves just starting to turn black:

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Today, it looks worse:

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And I also looked on the backside of the dying leaves and see small white spots. The stem by the leaves has also turned black:

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Also, in another spot I noticed a healthy branch that had a dead black branch attached to it:

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Hopefully these will be enough to help diagnose. I think the small white spots and black branch must be evidence of something - I just have no knowledge in this area.

UPDATE 2: I just pruned off the dead branches. I noticed the other bush has a brown patch as well. I pruned it off and noticed the green leaves remaining on that branch had a TON of the small white things on it, with some slight cottony webbing/tent-like stuff on the leaves. It looks to me like some sort of larvae.

I was actually planning to spray the house perimeter for bugs tonight, so I've gone ahead and given the plants a good dousing with a Suspend SC suspension. We will see if that helps!

I just realized I never posted pictures of the latest discovery. Here: 6

And zoomed in: 7

The pattern appears to be that these bugs (whatever they are) appear on the backs of the leaves. The leaf begins to turn brown/black around the eggs (or whatever they are). Next the whole leaf, then the stem and turns brown/black.

  • Are all the dead leaves on one branch? Are tops of the plants looking healthy? Any signs of wilting or browning on the other plant? And were the pyramid boxwoods you refer to also large plants when you bought them? – Bamboo Aug 14 '15 at 18:40
  • The rest of the plant that isn't brown looks really healthy. I will have to check if the dead leaves are all one branch, and whether there's anything on the other plant. The boxwoods were smaller when they were planted - 5 gal, I think. – Rob H Aug 14 '15 at 19:40
  • Look for physical damage to the branches at the base, scale looks like brown bumps on the underside of the leaves, mealybug looks like white cottony tufts. See anything like that? – kevinsky Aug 14 '15 at 20:01
  • Sorry, there isn't a single pest I can think of that would kill a single branch like this. Please DON'T START SPRAYING JUST BECAUSE!!! Looks like you had a pretty great harmony thing going and spraying willy-nilly without even knowing what you are spraying for IS WRONG!!! Gonna cause more problems down the road!! ARRGHHHH!! Did you try cutting the branch closer to a healthy stem to view brown in the outside of the stem with the vascular system? PLEASE DON'T SPRAY UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT TO SPRAY FOR!!! Thanx...grin? – stormy Aug 18 '15 at 22:21
  • Ok, check out the updated pictures – Rob H Aug 19 '15 at 2:20
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The rest of the plant looks pretty healthy. Since the dead part appears to go straight down, I'd say it's either a single branch hooking in near the base of the tree, or else an offshoot. Either way, it could be transplant shock or an infected branch.

While I don't live in Texas, we deal with similar temps in SC. I've planted several things this year and haven't had many issues. It looks like that might be mulch under the tree, so that's a good thing. Mulch is very important in not only holding liquid, but controlling temperature differences. It's like a buffer that gives you leeway in your care, so that it doesn't dry out and die or bake the roots before you can get to it.

Watering 5 times a week seems excessive to me. I live in clay country, so my experience may be somewhat different than what you're experiencing in Texas, but I typically water about 1.25 gal of water a week if it doesn't rain, for the first summer, then only if it's especially hot and dry after that. I water that amount, because it's close to correct for most of my trees and I have a 2.5gal mop bucket I can easily use. After 4 days of no rain, my ground can get so dry it cracks, but if I pull back the mulch, like when I add fertilizer to established trees/bushes, the ground is damp under it. Even the cracked yard is damp down a few inches, so it doesn't need as much water as you think. Also, you don't want your plant to drown in the excess water and it can also cause infections that can kill section or whole plants, like seen here.

I did the same thing with a rhododendron. I mulched it in and watered it like the others and I believe this caused a rot to form in the roots that killed it. This year, I cut back on the water and didn't mulch. The ground around the base is dry and cracked, but the plant has put off two new shoots.

I'd take off the dead material to prevent infection and cut back on the watering. There is a chart somewhere on the internet that tells you roughly how much to water for your area. I think it's mainly for gardens, but should be helpful with judging how much to water your tree. It had the base amount as 1" of water, but had a map with an additional amount of inches of water you add to that based on where you live, so for SC it was the base of 1", plus an additional 1" for my area.

  • This is a new planting this year - its a large plant, transplanted from a large pot. All new shrubs/trees need copious amounts of water during their first 2 years, particularly their first year, so I do not believe that overwatering is even remotely an issue here. I t may even be the exact opposite problem... at some point anyway. – Bamboo Aug 15 '15 at 11:58
  • I realize it's a new planting and I agree that it needs more watering in the first couple of years, but the plants I was referring to in my answer were brand new plantings. I've just found from my personal experience that they don't need a massive amount, just a regular supply. I water every day for a week, then once a week for the rest of the summer. The next year, I water if there is a prolonged period of no rain and after that, only as needed. I have actually killed a new rhododendron by overwatering it in the first year and rotting the roots. That's why I cut back. – Dalton Aug 17 '15 at 15:45
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Verticillium wilt

Look like 'flagging' to me...or a symptom of a virus that is not cool, sorry. Read this to see if this means anything to you. You might have to remove the whole plant and solarize the soil. You do not want to plant anything similar to boxwood or holly. Junipers as well. Check this out and other sites about VW and let us know what you decide to do!!

  • FYI, this disease most likely came from the nursery. TAKE IT BACK. Have them do an autopsy...actually they'll have to go to the nursery they got it from. See if they've had any problems...well, check anyhoo but talk to the owner or chief master gardener or garden manager....not help. – stormy Aug 15 '15 at 20:28
  • Good idea, but I don't think that's it. I just pruned off the dead branches and didn't see any of the brown rings in the cross-section that are indicative of this. Also, see update #2 (which I'm about to post) – Rob H Aug 15 '15 at 20:34
  • Perfect. Make sure you check at the point where the plant is healthy and starts to become unhealthy. I've always had a hard time with this aspect. Also cut at an angle. Hope I am totally wrong!! – stormy Aug 15 '15 at 20:40
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I just read your issue sorry friend.. Yes they are definitely aphids..you've got your share for sure. Heres your inexpensive and convenient answer. Dawn liquid dish soap (just a little maybe two teaspoons or tablespoons) & water in a water bottle. Spray the plant leaves top and bottom generously. It won't hurt your plants and it works. Check your other plants because they're good little eaters.you can thank me later good luck

  • See my update, it's actually scale insects. However, we did have an issue with aphids on another bush, so I've felt that pain, too. However, the aphids are gone now, but the scale remains... – Rob H May 13 '16 at 12:30
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Ok, I took a snipping to a local nursery. The bugs are white aphids. They sold me a systemic pesticide to use to treat the infestation. Hopefully that will do the trick!

UPDATE (Final): We sent a cutting off to a lab for analysis. It's actually Euonymus scale. 9 months later, the plant is still alive but the scale is still present. People are correct when they say it's impossible to get rid of!

  • Hi Rob! Might you be willing to update this answer with the new information you found? I'm asking because it's the accepted answer and will always sit under the question, so people like me might read it without catching the final update in the question. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, so I apologize if I've overstepped. Thank you! – Sue May 13 '16 at 15:28
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I live in NY near Albany and have the same thing happening with my hollies. I have China boy/ girl ones that were doing fine for 30 years and then started going brown and gradually dying. I think it may be varmints making tunnels underground and chewing the roots. It started when we got a bad infestation of chipmunks. Took 2 years to clear them out and now we have voles and moles doing the same. Last summer what were left had started to heal but the voles set it all back this winter. A new bush (not Chinas) is almost completely brown. I am guessing here but I think I'm right because two years after I planted the hollies my husband decided to get worms for fishing and dug around a holly to get them. The plant never grew after that and eveentually died. They don't tolerate root disturbance.

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