Proper Care For Holly Shrubs – Tips For Growing A Holly Bush

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By: Heather Rhoades

Growing holly bushes in your yard can add structure and a splash of color in the winter and a lush, green backdrop for other flowers in the summer. Because they are such popular plants, many people have questions about the care of holly bushes.

Planting Holly Bushes

The best time for planting holly bushes is in either the spring or fall. The relatively low temperatures combined with higher rainfall will make settling into the new location much less stressful for the holly bush.

The best location for planting holly bushes is in well-drained but not dry, slightly acidic soil in full sun. That being said, most hollies are very tolerant of less than ideal locations and will grow well in part shade or dry or swampy soil.

If you are growing a holly bush for its bright berries, you need to keep in mind that most holly varieties have male and female plants and that only the female holly shrub produces berries. This means that in the location where you would like to plant a holly bush with berries, you will need to plant a female variety and you will also need to make sure that a male variety is planted nearby. Instead, you can also try to find holly varieties that do not need a male plant in order to produce holly berries.

The initial care of holly bushes after they are planted is much like other trees and shrubs. Make sure that your newly planted holly bush is watered daily for the first week, twice a week for a month after that and, if planting in spring, once a week for the remained of summer.

Growing Holly Bushes

The care of holly bushes after they are established is easy. Fertilize your holly bushes once a year with a balanced fertilizer. They do not need to be watered in normal conditions, but if your area is experiencing a drought, you should give your holly bushes at least 2 inches (5 cm.) of water per week.

When growing a holly bush, it also helps to mulch around the base of the holly shrub to help retain water in the summer and to even out the soil temperature in the winter.

Proper care for holly shrubs also calls for regular pruning. Pruning your holly bushes will ensure that they keep a nice compact form rather than becoming leggy and scraggly.

If you find that your holly shrubs are being damaged in the winter by snow and wind, you can wrap the holly shrubs in burlap to protect them from the weather.

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Read more about Holly Bushes

How to Grow English Holly

English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is the Holly plant species commonly associated with Christmas. With its iconic shape, deep green and thorny leaves, and small red berries, it often features in festive wreaths, decorations and bouquets.

Also sometimes referred to as Christmas Holly or Common Holly, this slow-growing, ornamental, densely-branched evergreen tree can easily grow up to ten meters. It can also be trained to grow as a tall shrub.

Holly berries ripen in fall and remain on the branches throughout winter. They make an excellent food source for wildlife during this period. You're likely to see lots of birds congregating around your holly bush in the colder months.

Their attractive evergreen nature makes them an excellent choice for winter landscaping, either individually or to develop a hedgerow.

Botanical Name Ilex aquifolium
Common Name English Holly, Common Holly, European Holly
Plant Type Evergreen Tree or shrub
Mature Size Up to 10 meters
Sun Exposure Full sun / partial shade
Soil Type Tolerates a variety, but must be well-drained
Soil pH Not particular
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Blue/lilac shades
Hardiness Zones 5 to 8
Native Area Himalayas region

Top 10 Questions About Holly Shrubs

Gardening Know How receives a lot of questions growing and caring for plants in the garden. Holly shrubs are common additions to the landscape and not without their share of problems. This article container information on the 10 most asked questions about holly bushes and answers to go with them.

The best time to prune holly bushes is in the winter, when they’re dormant. If you’re doing this, it’s acceptable to cut back up to one third of the plant’s growth. It’s not absolutely necessary to do this in the winter, though. You can do some minimal pruning to shape the bush at any time of year – just be aware that pruning in late summer might result in fewer berries in the autumn. Some varieties, like Yaupon and Chinese holly, don’t need to be pruned at all.

Holly bushes are dioecious, which means they come in two sexes. If your holly bush isn’t producing berries, it’s almost certainly because of two possible reasons. Either it’s a female plant, which means it needs a male plant present in order to make berries, or it’s a male plant, which means it will never make berries. In both cases, you’re going to need to plant a second bush. Figure out which sex you have, then make sure to buy one of the opposite sex. You should have berries soon.

The easiest way to distinguish male and female holly bushes is to look for berries. If a bush has berries on it, then it’s female. Unfortunately, not all bushes without berries are male – they may be female bushes that are unpollinated or just out of season. The next best way to distinguish is by the flowers – male flowers have more prominent stamens than their female counterparts. Another good rule of thumb is to check for cultivar names. Many cultivars have matching names for the two sexes, like “Blue Prince” and “Blue Princess.” Just watch out for “Golden Queen” and “Golden King” which, for some reason, are named for the opposite sexes!

Yellow leaves on a holly bush usually means an iron deficiency and is often referred to as iron chlorosis. It can be caused by a few things. One major factor is too much water, either due to overwatering or poor drainage. This can leach away the iron in the soil and suffocate the plant’s roots. Another cause can be high pH levels. If the soil is too alkaline, it prevents the plant’s roots from taking up enough iron. Occasionally, the problem is simply due to low iron levels in the soil, although this is not often the case.

White spots on holly leaves can be due to a few different things. The culprit might be mealybugs, which leave a cottony residue on the undersides of leaves. Another possible issue is scale, tiny armored bugs that come in shades of brown to white and can be found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. If the white spots have more of a dusty, fungal look to them, your problem is probably powdery mildew. All of these problems can be treated effectively and safely with Neem oil.

There are a few good options for holly fertilizer. Rich compost and well-rotted manure are both good options. If you want to go the commercial route, choose a complete fertilizer with 8-10% nitrogen. Holly bushes like acidic soil. Some fertilizers are designed to help lower the pH of the soil as well as feed it – fertilizers specifically marketed for rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias all fall into this category and work well. There are also fertilizers made for hollies, Holly-Tone is one such example. Feed your holly bush once in the spring and again in the fall.

Your holly shrub might be dropping leaves for a few reasons. If it’s springtime, it may just be natural. Many hollies are evergreen, but they don’t keep the same leaves forever. It’s normal for some leaves to drop in the spring to make way for new growth. Another common reason is drought. Hollies like to be well watered. Try putting down several inches of mulch to keep the soil moist. The culprit might also be leaf scorch, which is caused by cold damage. Mulch heavily and water during warm spells in autumn to prevent this next winter.

Also known as holly tar spot, this problem can be caused by several different fungi. It starts as dark spots on leaves and leads to leaf drop. If left unchecked, it can cause serious defoliation. The best way to prevent leaf spot is by keeping the bush pruned to encourage good air circulation. If you catch an infection early, you can apply fungicide to hopefully stop its progress. If defoliation has already started, there isn’t much you can do but wait. Fortunately, leaf spot won’t kill the plant. It will just make it ugly until new leaf growth comes in next season.

There’s a reason holly bushes are associated with Christmas – they’re at their prettiest in the winter time. For the most part, they are winter hardy, though they can benefit from some extra protection. In the fall, mulch heavily around the base and water generously on warm days to help keep the shrub moist through the winter. If your winter is exceptionally cold, or if your hollies are planted in an exposed spot that gets a lot of wind, you can wrap them in burlap to protect them from cold damage.

Holly can be propagated from cuttings. The time to do this is when the bush is dormant. For deciduous hollies, this is when it has no leaves. For evergreens, it’s in the coldest part of winter. Take a 6-inch (15 cm.) long cutting from the end of a stem of new growth. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone. For deciduous bushes, wrap several cuttings together. Bury them at least six inches (15 cm.) deep in the ground, with the cut ends facing up. They should sprout in the spring. Sink the ends of evergreen cuttings 1 inch (2.5 cm.) deep in the ground and keep them well watered.

Prepping the Soil

Holly bushes prefer well-drained soil with a pH range between 5.0 and 6.0. Perform a soil test in the fall before planting in spring to determine the pH of the soil in your garden. You can use a commercial soil test kit or consult your local cooperative extension service regarding soil testing. Depending on the results, you might have to incorporate limestone into the top 7 inches of soil to raise the pH or add sulfur to lower it. While making these amendments, work a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost into the soil to promote drainage.

How to Prune Holly Shrubs

Last Updated: March 24, 2020 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Katie Gohmann. Katherine Gohmann is a Professional Gardener in Texas. She has been a home gardener and professional gardener since 2008.

There are 18 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Holly is a popular and decorative garden plant which ranges in size from 2 to 40 feet (.6 to 12.1 m). Though it's generally a low-maintenance shrub, you will need to prune your plant in order to keep its size under control and to promote the growth of lateral buds and shoots. [1] X Trustworthy Source University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Division of the University of Georgia focused on research and community education Go to source The way you perform this upkeep depends on the particular type of holly you have: while some holly requires only moderate pruning in the first few years of growth, other kinds need a more vigorous pruning regimen. [2] X Research source

How to Grow Holly

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly” may be a traditional Christmas carol, but holly has enjoyed a long symbolic history in other cultures as well. From decorating statues of Saturn—the Roman god of the harvest—to providing medieval protection from evil spirits, to offering shelter to imaginary woodland creatures and fairies, holly boughs and berries have brightened up the winter months since ancient times.

In the garden, hollies (Ilex sp.) are a striking choice that provide year-round interest and serve as great foundation plantings or hedges. There are hundreds of varieties of hollies, ranging from tiny shrubs less than a foot tall to towering trees reaching 70’. Most are hardy to zones 5 or 6, with a few varieties hardy to zone 4.

Holly Varieties

Hollies are known more for their berries than their small white flowers. You can find red, pink, blue, orange, yellow, and white berries, with some varieties more showy than others.

The shrubs and trees themselves may be rounded, pyramidal, columnar, or weeping in form. Leaf shapes range from the large, spiny leaves of holiday tradition, to tiny, smoother ones that are often mistaken for boxwood.

Sorting out the hundreds of varieties and hybrids of hollies can be a dizzying task. In general, hollies can be divided in the following main groups:

    English Holly: (Ilex aquifolium) These are the varieties most commonly associated with the Christmas holiday. With glossy, spiny foliage and variegated options, they can make a bold statement both indoors and out. Popular varieties include ‘Angustifolia’ and ‘Gold Coast.’

‘Carissa’ holly

Chinese Holly: (Ilex cornuta) Best known for the large, glossy, spineless varieties such as ‘Burford’ and ‘Carissa.’

Plant Gender and Berry Production

Hollies have male and female plants, with only the females producing berries. Female plants must be pollinated by male plants that bloom at the same time.

In developed neighborhoods, there are often sufficient male shrubs in the vicinity, but if your plant is not producing berries you may need to plant a pollinator. A good guideline is that you need at least one male plant for every ten females. Many cultivated varieties have male and female named counterparts, such as Blue Girl and Blue Boy.

Some commercial growers solve the pollination problem by grafting together both male and female stems, or by planting them together in the same pot. Be sure you know the plant’s gender before purchasing a holly shrub, so you won’t be disappointed.

‘Helleri’ reaches 4’ tall and resembles a small boxwood

Tips for Growing Holly

  • Hollies don’t transplant well, so consider the plant’s full-grown size when choosing your planting spot.

‘Soft Touch’ is a dwarf spreading variety that grows only 2’ tall but up to 8’ wide.

Planting and Growing Conditions

While many of us go on a mad search for holly branches and berries around the holidays, holly shrubs are best planted in spring, right before they start growing but with plenty of warm weather on the way. Hollies like:

    Light: Holly plants to best in full sun.


Hollies respond well to pruning and make great hedges or geometric shapes. Correct bare spots, caused by over shearing, by occasionally making deeper pruning cuts to allow light to penetrate the plant.

Take care to prune branches only back to a growth bud – if you completely remove a holly branch or stem, it may not fill back in. The holidays are a great time to prune hollies – then use those cuttings to deck the halls!

The striking tall column of ‘Sky Pencil’ make it a good container plant.

Watch the video: A Focus On Holly: All You Need To Know

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