Otto Luykens dying/Replacements?
I have a professional planting in the front of my house done probably 8 years ago, with barberry and Otto Luykens laurels alternating along a walk and anchored with crepe myrtles at either end. The soil is heavy clay and it gets only morning sun. The laurels I liked a lot, they were 4-5 feet and nice and thick, very deep green, but they have started dying. I pulled out the totally dead one and found what I can only describe as galls all around the trunk stems where they come from the ground. A local nursery could not identify the cause, and I have seen this gall-looking symptom on every plant. Only one of the four I originally had still looks healthy. I am planning on pulling them out. A few questions:
1) Has anyone ever seen this or does anyone have any idea what this might be?
2) Any suggestions for a resistant replacement? I would like another evergreen, something that does not grow quite as large as the laurel (something I could keep down to 3x3 feet) and that would coordinate with the barberry.
3) Is there anything I can add to the hole when I plant the replacement shrub that will help treat/prevent whatever disease the OL had?
3) Is it possible to cut the barberrys back enough to fit the smaller replacement shrubs without killing them?
4) Is it too late to do this pruning/transplanting now?
Thanks very much!