Q: I recently planted several hollies. When I dug the holes I removed the old red clay dirt and backfilled the plants with cow manure and enriched garden soil. Now the plants are withering. I remember you saying some original dirt should be used for backfill. With the rain we have had I am afraid the plants may be drowning.
A: Your initial instinct to amend the soil was good but it sounds like you went about it the wrong way. In heavy clay soil, new shrubs can benefit from soil amendments. The way to use soil amendment is to mix a two-inch thick layer into a doughnut six feet in diameter around the spot where a shrub will be planted. If you simply dug a hole and filled around the rootball with manure, your hollies could indeed be drowning. In effect, the roots are planted in a small bathtub. If you think that’s the case, pull out the hollies, dig a wide area around each one and plant them again.