Holly tree bark disease and death #679091 - Ask Extension


Holly tree bark disease and death #679091

Asked January 13, 2021, 8:34 AM EST

Nellie Stevens Holly trees are dying. Bark has portions with a lattice and moth eaten appearance. Erosion and healing has taken place, but trees are dead or, dying. Does not appear to have spread to native trees on property. Too late for these trees, anything I can spray on the others?

Anne Arundel County Maryland

Expert Response

A native woodpecker species called the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can cause damage that sounds like what you are describing, though often the host trees are otherwise unscathed from this activity. Images of the bird and its characteristic damage can be viewed in this gallery: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/1152

Control options for Sapsuckers are limited to simply using a barrier to keep the birds from reaching the trunk, though this could backfire and cause them to damage other trees; it is also often impractical to apply as branches can get in the way, especially on full/low-branched evergreens like a holly. If the tree does succumb, it may be due to a combination of stress factors not limited to the tree's injuries.

You can inspect the foliage for signs of scale, a common insect pest of holly that can easily reach damaging levels. There are different species of scale, but on holly, they are usually either cottony white tufts or hard-shelled gray/brown and will be attached to the leaf undersides (usually along the midvein), small twigs, or joints in branches. Some defoliation and yellowed foliage can be indicators of a heavy scale population, though other ailments can cause similar symptoms because their effects on the tree's tissues are the same. 'Nellie Stevens' is popular partly due to its resiliency, but plants stressed by prior drought, overly-wet soil, or root injuries can become more susceptible targets for pests such as scale. Here is a page of scale information that includes the main culprits for holly:


If you do not see any pests, you can send us photographs of the plants, the symptoms they are displaying, and the conditions they are growing in, and we can assess if there are any other likely causes of decline. If the trees happen to be leafless now, then the damage (no matter the cause) is too great to treat or will be too impractical to attempt recovery. Replacement trees are probably safe to plant, though it may depend on what factor seems to be the biggest contributor to decline of the original trees.


Mira Talabac Replied January 13, 2021, 1:59 PM EST
Thank you for the prompt response. It looks just like the pictures of damage from the yellow bellied sapsucker.  I thought they were just cute little woodpeckers. I will replant the area with something different. I have a lot of Nellie Stevens planted on my property, but they only went for 5 on the lot line.
                                                                                                 Robert O'Brien 

-----Original Message-----
From: Ask Extension
To: Robert O'Brien
Sent: Wed, Jan 13, 2021 1:59 pm
Subject: Re: Holly tree bark disease and death (#0003905)

Robert O'Brien Replied January 13, 2021, 5:05 PM EST

You're welcome!

Mira Talabac Replied January 13, 2021, 5:38 PM EST

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