Q: In spring, our ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly suffers from a blight. The new growth and branch tips blacken and wither. Later growth isn’t as badly affected and it continues to flourish. However, the unintended pruning is affecting the tree’s shape, making it bushy instead of conical
A: Most often, black tips in spring are evidence of freeze damage. If “Nellie” is flourishing, do not prune at all this winter and pray for a mild spring. If you feel the holly is having a hard time establishing a central leader, tie a broomstick tightly to the trunk with the end of the pole extending two feet higher than the shrub foliage. Gently draw a nearby branch upward and use wide strips of cloth to tie the branch into a vertical position. In a couple of years this branch will become the central trunk of your holly.