Is there hope for ailing holly trees?
Q: Can you help figure out what's wrong with my trees? They are some sort of holly and are losing their leaves. They were mature when I moved in about 15 years ago, so maybe they're just dying of old age. If I need to take them out, now would be the time. Stephanie Jarczynski, St. Petersburg
A: Based on the tree's size and age, it is probably an east Palatka holly, Ilex X attenuata 'East Palatka'. These native hollies used to be a mainstay in the Florida landscape until 10 to 12 years ago when a fungus disease, Sphaeropsis tumefaciens, known as Sphaeropsis gall and witches broom, began attacking native hollies, bottlebrush and oleander.
Odd growths, galls, form on branches causing swelling where groups of small twigs arise causing "witches broom." Leaves begin to drop and in time will cause the death of the tree, there are no controls, and removal is necessary.
If caught early, prune out deformed branches, dipping pruning tools in 10 percent bleach solution between every cut.
The disease has pretty much eliminated planting east Palatka hollies and oleanders in the Florida landscape until disease-resistant varieties are developed.