Everything You Need to Know About Growing Holly

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Holly

Boost the appearance of your landscape in an instant with the formal beauty of Holly bushes and trees! Set your landscape design up for long-term success with these durable and delightful plants!

Read on to learn all the tips and tricks needed to keep these elegant plants looking and growing their very best!

Types of Holly Bushes and Trees

Did you know there are many types of Holly bushes? Botanically known as Ilex, Holly is a vast genus of about 400 species! All have gorgeous foliage, pollinator-friendly white or greenish flowers, and colorful berries!

Both deciduous forms, and broadleaf evergreen varieties, types of Holly range from small bushes that stay one to two feet tall to Holly trees that reach astonishing heights of 50 feet (after many years of growing, of course!) like the American Holly.

Winterberry and Inkberry Holly are also native American types of Holly bushes, plus there are Chinese and Japanese Holly, Red Holly Hybrids, Blue Holly (Meserve Holly), and English Holly varieties!

Growing Holly Bushes and Trees

how to care for holly

Even beginners can easily grow these beautiful shrubs in full sun or partial shade in a wide range of climates and conditions between USDA growing zones 3 up to zone 9, so be sure you know your Hardiness Zone before selecting the Holly that is right for your climate. But as adaptable and versatile as Holly are, it’s no wonder that Holly trees and shrubs are incredibly popular with people across much of the continental United States!

Who knew how easy these gorgeous, glossy shrubs were to grow? 

Location, Sun & Soil Needs For Holly

From heat and humidity-tolerant southern species to the near-arctic hardy Blue Holly Hybrids, there’s sure to be a Holly for your Hardiness Zone!

Do site your broadleaved Holly types out of drying winter winds in the colder zones of 4, 5, and 6 to prevent winter burn.

Hollies like to be planted in full sun or partial shade. Most prefer slightly acidic soils, so use a fertilizer for acid-loving shrubs in early spring.

Plant Holly in a well-drained organic soil for best results and apply an even amount of water consistently for most of the season. Native Winterberry Holly shrubs even tolerate soggy, wet soils once established! Hold off putting away the hose in the fall to give your broadleaf evergreens a good drink before the ground freezes, or throughout the mild winter weather so these shrubs can keep their foliage looking its best. Going into the winter with dry roots can lead to leaf burn and windburn during the winter months.

Extra Tips & Helpful Tricks

Use Nature Hills Root Booster for life-long symbiotic support, and top-dress the soil around Holly roots with 3-4 inches of arborist bark chips or pine needle mulch. They do love their soil environment on the acidic side. Their shallow roots resent competition, and mulch helps your plant stay clean and pretty.

The mulch keeps soil from splashing onto the foliage, keeping it cleaner and disease-free! However, Holly have few pest or disease issues to begin with!

Pruning Holly

Holly blooms on old wood, so wait to prune Holly bushes until after the flowers are done, even if they are male shrubs - that way the female flowers can be pollinated. This will give new growth time to harden and mature before the cold season sets in. Of course, you can go ahead and snip the berried branches for seasonal decorations.

holly stamp

Japanese Holly and deciduous Winterberry Hollies require little pruning. Allow the plants to flower so they can pollinate the female flowers and produce fruit. Renewal pruning can be done to keep the plants flowering and fruiting well on the younger thinner branches by selectively pruning out the older, thicker stems if needed (generally every 3-5 years).

Holly, especially those with smaller leaves, can be sheared after flowering for a formal look, but their slower growth means they look just as great when allowed to grow naturally. Please allow enough room for your choice to reach its mature height and spread.

Holly Pollination - How To Get Those Berries!

The berries are a major draw for songbirds and crafty gardeners looking to create indoor/outdoor garlands, wreaths, container décor, and winter arrangements! Between the evergreen leaves and the bright fruit, it’s no wonder that Holly and Christmastime have become so closely associated!

You'll love having plenty of homegrown cutting material on hand to create bespoke winter arrangements. Why pay for cut Holly branches when you can easily grow your own?

Some Holly bushes are actually self-pollinating, like the tall Oakland® and Oak Leaf™ Holly. You'll get glossy green foliage all year and a heavy berry set on a tightly pyramidal plant.

However, most Holly cultivars require a known male and female pollination partner. We have several combos to choose from. Since you can plant up to 10 females for every male pollinator, you’re destined to have one eye-catching scene.

Plant several Blue Princess Meserve Holly bushes as a colorful hedge. Of course, you'll need to tuck a pollinator like Blue Prince, or Blue Stallion Holly somewhere nearby, with Blue Stallion being a charming, wavy-edged accent in its own right.

Don't forget about deciduous Hollies! The brilliant berries truly pop against bare branches! For a larger display, try fiery female Holly plants like Magical® Daydream Winterberry or Magical® Winter Jewel. Don't forget Jim Dandy, he'll come in handy to pollinate this trio, too. Create a larger display with Winter Red Holly. Plant several of these female Hollies with their pollinator, Southern Gentleman.

Dwarf Hollies like Little Goblin® Orange and her pollinator, Little Goblin® Guy Holly create incredible orange-berried displays unlike the rest of winter’s usual red!

Plant a compact male Holly pollinator Jim Dandy near female Red Sprite Holly. You'll have a season filled with incredible red berries, a blessing in a small space garden or as a low hedge. You can even push the easy button with our pre-selected Royal Family Holly combination. We've grown a male and female shrub together for a hard-working solution for bright red berries without taking up as much space.

Are Holly Berries Poisonous?

holly berries

Holly berries are not edible for humans and are considered toxic. Birds and some other small mammals will eat them after they go through the freeze-and-thaw process several times. The Holly berries sustain many species of birds in late winter when food is scarce.

Extremely bitter, pets and kids won’t want to eat very many, and it can take several berries to make one ill, no one has yet died due to accidental consumption of a berry or two. However, the discomfort, upset stomach, and other gastrointestinal issues that can come from eating too many will lead to an ER visit.

How Fast Do Holly Shrubs Grow?

The Nellie Stevens Holly is the fastest-growing Holly. This heat-tolerant, large Holly selection is an outstanding accent for residential and commercial properties alike. You'll get plenty of beautiful berries with Nellie Stevens Holly. This is especially true with one or more Dwarf Burford Holly shrubs planted as a showy thriller in a patio container nearby.

Slower-growing Yaupon and Inkberry Hollies make incredible hedges that won’t keep you busy pruning or shearing! Once a year and you are done with maintenance!

Growing Holly Shrubs in Containers

Even without a yard, there’s no need to rely on artificial Holly bushes. Although you can't grow Holly indoors, you can grow a live, narrow Holly bush in an outdoor container.

Select Sky Pencil Holly Bushes give you the skinny jeans style that reaches high and stays slender. Or simply plant our expertly crafted Castle Spire Blue Holly tree-form topiary as a stand-out live Holly cultivar.

Cold-hardy, native Inkberry Hollies are gaining a well-deserved reputation as a superior landscape choice! They have glossy foliage that is lance-shaped and nearly spineless. Gem Box® Inkberry Holly shrubs make lovely container plants. Try them as a native alternative to Boxwood that features every bit as much elegance.

Keep Dwarf Holly bushes in a 20-inch garden container for many years! Use potting mix for ericaceous plants and apply acid-lovers fertilizer according to the label.

These thrillers look great on your front porch or standing like a pair of sentries on either side of your sunny front entry in matching pots! You can dress them up to fit the season all year long! Add a spiller around their base, or a flowering fringe of living groundcover for an added boost of color! Use a topiary form of Holly for an upscale accent that turns heads!

Ensure your container has ample drainage and is large enough to keep up with your plant's moisture needs and winter insulation needs.

Easy to Grow Holly!

Adaptable and tolerant, the versatile Holly has been a garden standard and “Prince of Evergreens” since the 1800s! So whether you are just starting your landscaping journey or have an established yard, including Holly is always a good idea!

You’ll enjoy years of beauty and berries without any fuss!

Happy Planting!

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