I'm not sure I understand.* You said:
So does that mean you don't see any leaves on the ground?* If deer are eating, they tear at the stems and don't gingerly nibble off the leaves while leaving the leaf stem.* If there are leaves on the ground it would be helpful to know if they have spots or yellowing.
The problem is that new leaves are either dying or are being eaten by something. The result leaves dead new leaf stems on the outer edges of the bushes where new leaves would ordinarily appear.
These two sites have some helpful info.* I'm thinking that either drought stress (if you'd had drought) or some type of scale insect might be responsible.* At this first site look especially at 'Insects' and 'Disorders' at the bottom of the page.* The second site is just about diseases of holly.
I would recommend you DO NOT spray anything until you know what is the cause as you might be stressing them more and not doing the environment any good.* I always say, 'know thine enemy'.
Btw, where do these hollies grow and are they evergreen?* Do you know which hollies these are?
When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.