Yellow leaves on holly

Information On How To Fix Yellow Leaves On Holly Trees

Yellow leaves on holly trees is a fairly common problem for gardeners. On a holly, yellow leaves typically indicates an iron deficiency, also known as iron chlorosis. When a holly plant does not get enough iron, the plant cannot produce chlorophyll and you get yellow leaves on your holly bush. A holly turning yellow can be fixed with a few simple changes.

What Causes Iron Chlorosis and Yellow Leaves on Holly Trees?

Iron deficiency and a yellow holly leaves can be caused by many things. The most common reasons for this is either over watering or poor drainage.

Overwatering causes yellow leaves on a holly bush by either leaching away the iron in the soil or by suffocating the roots so that they are not able to take in the iron in the soil. Similarly, poor drainage also causes iron chlorosis in hollies, because the excess standing water also suffocates the roots.

Another cause of yellow leaves on holly trees is soil that has a pH that is too high. Hollies like soil that has a low pH, in other words, acidic soil. If the pH is too high, the holly plant cannot process the iron and then you get yellow holly leaves.

The last reason can be simply a lack or iron in the soil. This is rare, but can occur.

How to Fix a Holly with Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves on holly bush is pretty easy to fix. First, make sure that the plant is getting the appropriate amount of water. The holly bush should be getting about 2 inches of water a week and no more than this. Do not water additionally if the holly plant is getting enough water from rainfall.

If the yellow leaves on your holly trees are caused by poor drainage, work to correct the soil. Adding organic material to the soil around the holly bush will help fix the drainage.

Second, have your soil tested with a soil test kit or at your local extension service. Find out if your yellow holly leaves are caused by too high a pH or by a lack of iron in the soil.

If the problem is too high a pH, you can make they soil more acid. You can do this by using acidifying fertilizers or, you can find more ways to lower the pH in this article.

If your soil is lacking iron, adding a fertilizer that contains trace amounts of iron will correct the problem.

Yellow Leaves on Holly Tree

Holly shrub. image by LiteWave from <a href=’’></a>

Hollies, with their lush, evergreen foliage, beautify the garden during all four seasons. Add berries for Christmas, and you have one of the most generous plants in the garden. Hollies–usually easy to care for–sometimes require a little TLC. Usually bright and green, holly leaves sometimes turn yellow, often signaling a cultural problem. Chlorosis, one of the more serious holly ailments, is often the cause of yellow leaves.


Chlorosis shows itself on hollies by all-over leaf-yellowing. Leaves start to lose their deep green color and glossiness. The severity of chlorosis determines how yellow the leaves will become. Pale green coloring of leaves can last months or even a few years. Severe cases can turn leaves completely yellow and kill a holly in one season.


Chlorosis is caused by iron deficiency. Even though iron may be present in the soil, holly trees cannot take it in unless the soil is slightly acidic. Yellow leaves lack green chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis.


Hollies with chlorosis can be treated by regular fall feedings of acid-loving tree-and-shrub fertilizer, according to label instructions. For a shot in the arm, spray with chelated iron, which turns leaves green quickly. Scratch iron sulphate into the soil for a long-term solution. Annually top-dressing the soil with an inch of compost and pine bark will add acidity over time.


Hollies like moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. The ideal pH is between 4.5 and 6. When planting, mix in lots of compost to increase acidity. If existing soil is alkaline, mix in iron sulphate to lower pH. Replenish mulch each year. As it breaks down, it will slightly acidify soil. Fertilize annually with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

Alternative Diagnoses

Yellow leaves do not always signify chlorosis. Hollies, like many evergreens, shed about one-third of their leaves in the spring. Leaves turn yellow first before falling off. This is normal. Spring leaf drop should be followed by fresh, green growth. Bright yellow leaves can be a sign of water-logged roots. Hollies in wet soils should be transplanted to well-drained locations.

Problems of Holly

Foliage Damaged in Winter
Wind Burn – Severe windburn may damage Holly foliage during the winter, but affected trees usually regenerate themselves in the spring. A protective material such as burlap or agricultural fleece wrapped loosely around the Holly tree will protect it somewhat. If the Holly is not too large, you can spray the tree with Antitranspirant Spray before winter weather arrives. You may need to spray again during a warm spell in January or February. If this is a chronic problem, move the Holly to a more protected location.
Berries Fail to Appear
Lack of Pollination – Berries may fail to appear for several reasons: the plant is male, the plant is too young, the plant is female but there is no male nearby, flowers were injured by late spring frosts or cold, or rainy weather curtailed pollen spread by honeybees. All Hollies need pollination except Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta).
Leaves Turn Yellow or White
Mineral Deficiency – Leaves of an underfed Holly turn yellow or white in the spring when new growth starts, and again in the late summer after berries have formed. Feed the shrub as described above. Maintain soil acidity by adding powdered sulfur, used coffee grounds or peat moss to the soil.
Leaves Turn Brown
Holly Bud Moth – Adult Holly bud moths are grayish mottled with brown, and have a 1/2-inch wingspread. They lay eggs in July and August on Holly leaves and twigs. The larvae, which hatch in the spring, are yellowish to greenish gray worms 1/2 inch long. They attack new leaves in mid-May, tying them together into unsightly brown or black masses. The moths are severe Holly pests in the Pacific Northwest. Handpick any infested leaves and clean up plant debris, where the pests spend their pupal stage.
Leaves Mined and Rolled
Leaf miner – This most important insect pest of Holly is a small yellowish white maggot, 1/6 inch long. The adult is a small black fly that emerges about May 1 and makes slits in the lower leaf surfaces, where it deposits eggs. Although the maggots begin feeding in June, leaf injury isn’t obvious until mid-August, when small, irregular, serpentine ridges appear on leaf surfaces. By mid-September these mines, or tunnels, increase in size. If infested severely, the entire upper surfaces of the leaves may be blistered by this Holly leaf miner. Remove and burn all affected leaves. If necessary, prune back branches until healthy growth remains. Remove severely damaged bushes. For more details see the file Controlling Leafminer
Leaves Discolored and Deformed
Mites – Southern red mites can be serious pests of Holly in the spring and the fall. They’re about 1/50 inch long, barely visible to the unaided eye. They have 4 pairs of legs, piercing-sucking mouthparts, and very compact bodies. Inspect your Holly tree. If it has mites, the tops of its lower leaves will be stippled with tiny yellow dots or red spots. Leaves, stalks, and adjacent stems may be distorted or swathed in fine webbing. For more details see the file Controlling Mites
Leaves and Branches Encrusted With Small Bumps
Scale Insects – Holly scale usually congregates on leaf undersides to suck plant sap. The scale insect’s covering is a small oval shell, light brown to tan in color. The insect itself and its eggs are lemon yellow. This scale over winters in a partially grown condition. It starts feeding in late March or early April, and lays eggs in June and July. There is usually only one generation a year. The symptoms of Holly scale include reduced vigor, yellow spotting of the leaves, brownish bumps on leaves and twigs, and sooty mold growing on sticky honeydew secreted by the pests. For more details see the file Controlling Scale
Sunken Spots on Leaves
Anthracnose – This fungus disease causes distinct lesions on Holly leaves, appearing as moist, sunken spots with fruiting bodies in the center. Leaf spots may run together, resembling a blotch or blight. Sometimes terminal shoots blight down to several inches below the buds. Pustules containing pinkish spores appear. Dieback and defoliation may occur in severe cases. For more information see the file on Controlling Fungal Disease
Leaves Covered With White Powder
Powdery Mildew – Powdery mildew is caused by fungus that attack Holly leaves, sometimes covering them entirely with a thin white powdery coating. For more information see the file on Controlling Fungal Disease

How can I help my holly bush with brown leaves and dead branches on it?

The browned leaves and dead branches are the result of winter injury, likely sustained during the very cold temperatures we had back in January. Broad-leaved evergreens, such as hollies or rhododendrons, are particularly susceptible to damage. Yet, cold temperatures aren’t the only factor. Warm spells in late winter can also injure plants. In fact, rapid temperature fluctuations are usually more damaging than sustained periods of extreme cold. Sunlight and warmth trigger the leaves to start photosynthesis, which causes them to lose water. If the ground is still is frozen, the plants’ roots can’t absorb the water needed to replenish the supply in plant tissues. As a result, the leaves or needles turn yellow and then brown, a condition often called “winter burn” or “winter kill.”

Dead Leaves May Not Mean The Branch Is Dead

However, don’t rush to prune out branches because they may not really be dead. Plants may exhibit discolored leaves but still have live buds. Once the ground thaws and the shrub can absorb water through its roots, it may recover. One way to tell whether a branch is alive is to gently scratch a small nick in the bark with your thumbnail. If you see a green layer beneath the outer bark, the branch still is alive. Although it may drop its damaged leaves, it will flush new ones in the spring.

If you do have sections of dead branches, you should prune them out. Hollies are very tolerant of being pruned and will often re-sprout even if they are cut to the ground. Many people do not prune their hollies as they like the symmetrical shape they naturally assume. However, they tolerate pruning very well. Wait to prune your holly until it begins to show new growth in the spring. At this point, you can prune out the dead tissue above the new, emerging leaves.

Grape Holly

Grape Holly

Native to western North America, grape holly is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that will grow wonderfully in the shadier spots of your garden. Grape holly displays its new foliage in an alluring red color and has wonderfully fragrant yellow flowers in spring. These fragrant flowers then give way to blue-black berries that are quite attractive. The berries from grape holly are edible and are actually quite tart. These berries are often used to make jams, jellies, and preserves. Grape hollies can be very useful in drawing wildlife to your garden, oftentimes <a href=”… butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and many other species of birds, as they are drawn to the fruit and flowers of this lovely plant.

genus name
  • Mahonia
  • Part Sun,
  • Shade
plant type
  • Shrub
  • 6 to 12 inches,
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • To 10 feet wide
foliage color
  • Blue/Green,
  • Chartreuse/Gold
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Colorful Fall Foliage,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover,
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Good For Privacy,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Fragrance,
  • Cut Flowers
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8,
  • 9
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Colors of Grape Holly

Grape hollies provide many different colors throughout the growing season. As new leaves emerge in the spring, they are red tinted and mature to a shiny dark green in summer. Some varieties have a beautiful blue green foliage. Foliage will begin to change from the dark green to a purplish color in fall and by winter grape holly will be a lovely burgundy-bronze color. The flowers of grape holly bloom around April and are a spectacular bright yellow color with a pleasing fragrance. The flowers are followed by edible berries that will be a blue-black color in the early fall. These berry clusters resemble small clusters of grapes.

See more of our favorite flowering shrubs here.

How to Grow Grape Holly

Grape hollies work wonderfully when planted in small clusters, they can also be used as shrub borders, foundation plantings, and work equally well when planted in either woodland or shade gardens. Grape holly is a quick growing shrub that can be useful as a privacy screen or native fence; be prepared, this quick growing tendency can also create a somewhat invasive plant. Be certain to check with local authorities to verify if grape holly is a problem plant in your area. Grape hollies will prefer an area of your garden that is sheltered from the wind, the evergreen leaves may dry out in winter if the plant faces too much sun and wind.

Pruning your grape holly can also help to control their spread, they are quite tolerant of pruning and can be cut down all the way to the ground if a fresh starts is needed. Pruning should be done in early summer once the shrub has finished blooming. Typically they will not need much trimming unless they are spreading too much for your liking. Some varieties can also spread by runners and may form thickets with time.

Learn how to prune shrubs here.

Grape holly will grow best in moist soils with good drainage. The best soils for grape hollies are soils that are acidic or neutral, as alkaline soils can be problematic for this plant. Grape holly can be propagated through seed, cuttings, and dividing existing plants. Grape hollies prefer part shade to full shade areas of the garden. If they are planted in too much sun the leaves may scorch, especially during the winter as many varieties are semi-evergreen to evergreen in nature.

More Varieties of Grape Holly

Leatherleaf grape holly

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This variety of Mahonia japonica (‘Bealei’) bears blue-green leaves and blooms later than most in spring. It grows 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 7-8.

Chinese grape holly

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Mahonia lomariifolia makes a bold statement in the landscape. Growing 6-12 feet tall, Chinese grape holly features spiny, glossy green leaves that form a backdrop for small yellow flowers in winter. Zones 7-10.

Mahonia eurybracteata

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Mahonia eurybracteata shows off finely divided, glossy green leaves. Yellow flowers appear late in the season and are followed by clusters of blue-black berries. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 7-10.

Mahonia japonica

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Mahonia japonica is upright evergreen shrub with dark green leaves and pale yellow flowers from fall to spring, with clusters of pale blue berries. It grows 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 7-8.

Oregon grape holly

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Mahonia aquifolium has a open habit and grows 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It develops medium-green spiny leaflets and spikes of yellow flowers. Zones 6-9.

How To Tell The Difference Between A Male And Female Holly Bush

Numerous shrubs produce berries, many of which using both male and females flowers on the same plant. However, some shrubs — like holly — are dioecious, meaning they require separate male and female plants in order for pollination to occur.

Of course, in their native environments, this doesn’t pose a problem. Nature simply takes care of itself. In the home landscape, however, knowing how to tell the difference between a male and female holly bush is important. If you don’t have at least one male within close proximity of a female, pollination will not occur. As a result, there will be no berries on holly. It takes just one male to pollinate several female plants.

Holly Plant Male and Female Differences

Male and female holly flowers grow on different plants. Although some plants may be tagged with their particular sex, this is rarely the case. Therefore, it is oftentimes up to you to determine the difference. This is not an easy task. It is nearly impossible to distinguish the male and female holly bush prior to blooming.

Generally, all females produce berries. Males do not. If you find a plant with berries, it’s usually safe to say that

it is female. The best way to determine the sex of holly plants is by examining the flowers, which are located between the leaf and branch joint. Although the small clusters of creamy white flowers are similar in appearance, males have more prominent stamens than females.

Types of Holly Shrubs

There are many types of holly shrubs:

  • English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is one of the most common with its familiar glossy, dark-green spiky leaves and bright red berries used for Christmas displays.
  • Chinese holly (I. cornuta) is one of the few types of holly shrubs that can actually produce berries without male pollination. These berries vary in color from red, dark orange to yellow.
  • The Japanese holly (I. crenata) produces vibrant black-colored berries. This is also true of the inkberry variety (I. glabra), which is very similar and just as striking.
  • There are several varieties of Blue holly (I. x meserveae) available as well, which produce attractive bluish-green foliage, purple stems, and red berries.

To ensure you have both male and females, stick with similar varieties of holly plant, male and female are not always labeled. Named cultivars, however, are usually found in both male and female varieties. For instance, ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’, ‘China Boy’ and ‘China Girl’, or ‘Blue Stallion’ and ‘Blue Maid.’

One word of caution, not all male/female names can be relied upon. Take, for example, the variegated Golden holly varieties ‘Golden King’ and ‘Golden Queen.’ The names are deceptive, as ‘Golden King’ is actually the female plant while ‘Golden Queen’ is the male.

Planting Holly Shrubs

When planting holly shrubs, place them in full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. The best time for planting holly shrubs is fall, although spring is also suitable depending on your particular region. Warmer climates benefit from fall planting so their roots have plenty of time to take hold before the onset of hot, dry summers. Hollies should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety used and overall size. Most types of holly shrubs have shallow root systems so add mulch.

Holly shrubs can also benefit from occasional pruning to enhance their appearance.

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