What Is Holly Scorch: Learn About Leaf Scorching In Holly Bushes

Holly Bush With No Berries
holly scorch
(Image credit: Gardening Know How)

Spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, and the discovery of winter damage on your shrubs. If your holly bush has developed widespread leaf drying or browning, it's probably suffering from leaf scorch. When the first sweet, warm breeze of spring starts to blow, assuring us that winter has finally released its cold grip, most gardeners turn their thoughts to reviving their plants from their long sleep, and wait eagerly for bright blooms and green leaves. Unfortunately, in our haste, we often forget that winter can leave damage that crops up weeks or months after the freezing weather has passed. Holly bush winter damage is a common problem for growers of holly.

What is Holly Scorch?

Holly leaf scorch is the result of winter damage to your holly bushes, but won't always appear until the last cold snaps are over. When it does finally rear its head, it's easy to mistake for a fungal infection. If your hollies are starting to dry out from the leaf tips inward, or either circular or irregular tan spots begin to appear with no obvious cause during the spring or summer, holly leaf scorch should be a prime suspect. Leaf scorching in holly appears most often when the ground is frozen and drying winds or bright sun is prevalent. This combination of conditions causes holly leaves to lose more water than the plant can take up from the frozen ground, leading to a fluid imbalance. Although cold, dry weather is the most common cause of holly leaf scorch, it can also be induced by exposure to de-icing salts or frequent visits by neighborhood dogs who mistake hollies for fire hydrants.

Treating Hollies with Leaf Scorch

Once leaf scorch is obvious, it's too late to treat your holly, but you can take measures to ensure that it won't suffer the same fate next year.

  • Reducing plant drought stress by watering regularly through dry periods and into fall will help keep your holly's tissues hydrated through the winter.
  • Adding several inches (8 cm.) of organic mulch to the root zone of your holly will help prevent freezing and minimize any future leaf scorch.
  • Remember to water your holly well during those warm winter spells and you can kiss good-bye to leaf scorch.
Kristi Waterworth

Kristi Waterworth was a regular contributor to Gardening Know How for many years, answering countless queries on plant pests and diseases.