Shrubs can serve many purposes in a landscape and have been used in both mass plantings and as accent features.  They can include plants that offer colorful blooms, food for pollinators, and screens for less than favorable views.

We tend to think that shrubs will be permanent feature in our landscapes, because many are hardy and adapted to our climate. Like any other plant you may choose for your yard, shrubs may not live forever and there are a wide variety of reasons a shrub may need replacement after years of solid performance.

Let’s use any example from my own yard of the Dwarf yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana.’ Back in 2001, I planted three hollies, spaced with plenty of room to grow, in a border area of my landscape.  The plants grew well forming mounds about 3.5 feet high and 4 feet wide.  Since the ‘Nana’ holly is a naturally mounding shrub, it did not require pruning and once established, rainfall supplied needed water.

Yaupon holly with dieback

Yaupon holly with dieback after 17 years in a landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Over the past year, several areas of branch dieback have developed in all plants.  After finally deciding that the dieback was unattractive enough to warrant plant removal, I began cutting the plants back.  I discovered dead interior branches, girdling roots, and some internal stem discoloration.  In other words, there are many factors that have led to poor plant performance.  Another issue is a large Loropetalum hedge (planted by my neighbor) that shades one side of the plant.

Girdling roots

Girdling roots often develop when rootballs have not been properly prepared during installation. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

What could I have done to help these plants stay healthier for many more years?  I could have prepared the rootball better for planting by shaving off the edges or supplied a little fertilizer on occasion in my sandy soil.  These practices may have extended the life of the plants for several more years, but they may not have made a difference.  Sometimes shrubs decline and die.  I am accepting that not everything performs at an outstanding level in our climate.   Also, there is an end point for some of my favorite plants in the yard.  Some may outlive me while others thrive for a few years or a decade or so.

The bright side of loss of my Yaupon hollies is that I get to plan for a feature for the new year.  Maybe something for pollinators and birds to last the next 17 years.