How to Grow a Hedge & More With Holly

How to Grow a Hedge & More With Holly

holly close up

Bring joy to your yard with Holly! Rediscover the joys of traditional plantings to beef up the look of your landscaping! They easily become an integral part of your garden design as fences, hardscapes, and sculptural living statues!

Holly are popular because of their glossy leaves and classically dense branching. They have small spring flowers for pollinators, and many have brilliantly-colored fruit in the fall and winter months for birds and winter décor!

Using The Versatile Holly Hedge In Your Landscape

Dynamic accents, both broadleaved evergreen and deciduous Holly bushes are landscape workhorses throughout a wide range of climates and conditions!

holly shrub

Handling pollution and sun, Holly tolerates cold and heat beautifully! Thriving in more acid soils and even taking on drought occasionally, there’s little that will make these long-lived shrubs fail. 

Urban-tolerant Holly bushes are highly adaptable and versatile, as easy to grow in rural areas as they are in the city courtyard and even rooftop garden!

Native Winterberry Holly shrubs even tolerate soggy, wet soils! Use these moisture-loving Holly as excellent low hedges in low-lying areas and Rain Gardens.

Cold-hardy, native Inkberry Hollies are gaining a well-deserved reputation as a superior landscape choice.

Feed the birds with native Possomhaw or Red Holly, while inviting wildlife and pollinators galore!

1. Holly as Hedges and Barrier Plantings

Effective as elegant privacy screens, hedges, and groupings, Holly adds their delightful presence to your yard and garden! Often used to grow together into one solid continuous hedge for better screening, a Holly hedge keeps prying eyes and trespassers at bay.

holly hedge

Both deciduous and evergreen Holly create great windbreaks, as wildlife shelterbelts, and are often used as living snow-fencing!

  • Surround an outdoor room with a living wall of evergreen Holly to keep prying eyes from peeking in, or even hide an unsightly neighbor or utilitarian landscape feature!
  • Holly hedges grow together to form a solid screen to create a perfectly special destination spot!
  • The more spiny types of Holly create amazing deterrents and keep trespassers out of pools and backyard areas that are sure to make anyone (or anything) think twice before crossing them!
  • The grand American Holly tree grows into a stately, screening grandfather in a modern forest or mixed-shrub border! Plus you’ll screen out anything up to 50 feet high!
  • Nellie Stephens Holly is a fast-growing and very tall Holly that brings seclusion in a hurry!


2. Holly as Backdrops and Landscape Definition

Line the back of a garden border with a steady green backdrop that shows off everything planted before it! You’ll create garden vignettes and highlight special garden art, a garden bench, or a quiet nook beautifully!


  • Asian-inspired gardens rely on Japanese Holly much like Boxwood shrubs are used! They also are fantastic alternatives to Privet and Boxwood!
  • Some of the most popular backdrop Holly shrubs include the Compact Japanese Holly, or the Soft Touch Japanese Holly because of their fine-textured leaves.
  • Create a toothy backdrop with the Sky Box® Japanese Holly and its pyramidal forms evenly spaced.
  • The rounded Emerald Magic® Meserve Holly stays small enough to use under windows and makes an intelligent choice in low-maintenance foundation plantings!
  • Try alternating Castle Wall® and Castle Spire® Hollies for your foundation planting, using the Castle Spire® between windows and as corner anchors. Or use this pairing to create a unique hedge! Add a pair of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Castle Wall® Blue Holly Pyramidal Topiary in a fancy set of pots for your front steps!
  • Shamrock Inkberry and Strongbox® Inkberry Hollies are fantastic low-growing shrubs for use as edging, garden borders, and facer plants to hide the bare leggy stems of larger, more established hedges.
  • Box in a garden with a low hedge of Shamrock Inkberry, or Dwarf Yaupon Holly, whether sheared or left to grow naturally, you’ll create a showy landscape feature that won’t need much maintenance!
  • Try the evergreen Patty O Box® Japanese Holly for a low-maintenance landscape! You'll relish the depth of dark color, along with the incredible lustrous shine of the leaves.


3. Holly as Specimens and Focal Points

Only have room for one or two new plants? Holly are gorgeous stand-alone accents and focal points! Taking to pruning, training, and shearing, you can control the size, create tree-form versions, or shear them into tidy formal shapes that stand out! Showy topiaries and perform beautifully as an accent or conversation piece!

  • Drops of Gold Japanese Holly is a fantastic yellow-leaved Holly bush and you’ll add a sunny finishing touch with these compact, spreading shrubs!
  • The Oakland® Holly is a statuesque rounded pyramidal-formed shrub that creates an ideal garden anchor or for softening the corner of a home or garage!
  • Try a bold Winter Red Holly with its bold red berry display, or a variegated Honey Maid Holly for brilliant color year-round.

The topiary forms of our popular Holly become instant conversation pieces and garden accents! Try an Oakland® Holly Pom Pom Topiary in a small garden surrounded by a low evergreen Japanese Hoogendorn Holly hedge for a modern take on classic courtyards and formal gardens!


4. Using Holly in Containers & Container Gardening

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. Prune your Holly as large or small, as round or as skinny as you need to have it thrive in a planter.

container holly

  • Select Sky Pencil Holly Bushes gives 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! You’ll enhance your front entry and be able to decorate your container topiaries to fit the season all year round!
  • Gem Box® Inkberry Holly shrubs make lovely container focal-point plants and can be kept as an easy-peasy rounded thriller.
  • Line a balcony or back deck with matching containers of Blue Princess Holly Pyramidal Topiary, or line your driveway with slim, yet tall planters of First Editions® Straight & Narrow® Japanese Holly.


5. Holly for Winter Color & Decorations

Holly are well-known for their ornamental foliage in wreaths, crafts, and outdoor container decorations, but the berries are just as ornate! Create gorgeous holiday and winter garlands, wreaths, container décor, and winter arrangements of both the fruit and leaves!

Left on the shrub, however, the berries bring much-needed color to the dreary fall and winter landscape! Not to mention feeding songbirds!


6. Holly for Wildlife

American Native Holly includes the Winterberry, Inkberry, and Yaupon Holly bushes! These durable shrubs feed birds with their bountiful and colorful berries. Persisting through the fall and even the winter months for much-needed color. The dense branching provides shelter and nesting for a wide variety of birds too!

The tiny flowers in the spring feed a wide assortment of bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects!

Tips on Planning Your Holly Hedge

Planning your living fence starts with how many plants you are going to need, knowing their mature widths and sometimes heights, and knowing your soil's drainage. These plants need sun to partial sun locations and well-drained soil that won’t become soggy or stagnant after heavy rains.

The number of plants is determined by the mature size of the plants you are using for your hedge and the size of the area being filled.

Spacing Holly For Hedges

Find a Holly you’d like to use as a hedge. Check the Plant Highlights to find the mature width. Then when it's time to plant, choose how you want your hedge to look!

boxwood shrub

  • Space your shrubs just under their mature width to create a solid screen that grows together seamlessly in time. Remember, rows don’t need to be stick-straight!
  • For a more informal spacing that highlights each shrub as an individual, yet still creates a solid hedge, space each shrub its mature width apart or a bit more. You can even zig-zag your shrubs or create unevenly spaced groupings.
  • For a more visual hedge or one that is mixed among other shrubs of varying type and size, plant at evenly spaced intervals as far apart as you’d like.

Let's say you are using a Castle Wall Holly variety that gets to be about 6' tall or more and spreads about 3 - 4' wide. You are planting your new plants from Nature Hills that will be delivered in #3 containers, and not yet at the fully mature size that they will become in time. Choose a larger container size for faster results and more immediate impact.

You must also decide how quickly you want your new hedge to be a solid screen. If you planted your new plants 3 feet apart, it may take several years for the plants to touch each other.

Consider how the bottoms of the hedge will mesh together as an older hedge as well. You may decide you do not want to wait years for the hedge to become a solid screen. In that case, you will want to plan on planting them closer together.

If you plant your Castle Wall Holly plant every 3 feet on center (which means they can spread 1 ½ feet on each side of the center of the plant before each plant touches the one next to it), it will make a nice hedge in a fairly short period.

Remember that these plants will be wider as they continue to grow and develop and they will start to touch each other.

As a solid hedge (formal sheared hedges or informal, untrimmed hedges) you want these plants to touch each other. They will grow together seamlessly with the plant on either side of them, and there is no reason to prevent that from happening.

We have seen people trim the plants back into individuals that do not touch and that is not the goal here.

Pruning Holly For Hedges & Screens

These elegant plants can be used for screening and sheared formal hedges with the added bonus of cheerful fruit for birds! Pruning is a necessary part of shrub maintenance to keep them growing healthy and looking their best.

pruning hedge

Warning - Most of these plants have sharp pointed leaves that can be sharp and spiny - so be careful! Gear up with heavy long-sleeved shirts or coats, thick gloves, and even some eye protection! Don’t wear shorts or flip-flops for this task either!

Lay down a tarp where you are pruning and have a sturdy yard-waste container at the ready. Sharpen your shears or hedge trimmers and you are ready to go!

When and How To Prune Holly Bushes

As with any flowering/fruiting shrub - when to prune comes down to timing!

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. Allow the plants to flower so they can pollinate the female flowers and produce fruit. 

Avoid removing more than a third of the shrub’s mass at a time per year! Of course, you can go ahead and snip the berried branches for seasonal decorations!

Deciduous Holly Pruning

Deciduous Hollies like Possomhaw and Winterberry should be pruned right after flowering. Deciduous type Holly plants lose their leaves in fall, leaving them ‘naked’ in the winter except for the fruit display on the female plants.

Use these deciduous plants for larger screening, or along water-logged areas and natural sites for a more natural look. Grown as specimens and winter interest, or in front of evergreens to show off that incredible fruit display, these plants are not a good candidate for formal hedges. 

These plants are large growers and offer no screening during the winter months so shearing isn’t the best method of pruning. They work best when allowed to grow more naturally by not reducing the size when trimming back. Instead, use renewal pruning methods as described below after flowering.

Evergreen Holly Pruning

Ideal for clean lines, topiary, and formal sheared hedges and screening, Evergreen Holly shrubs and trees produce those classic high-end curb appeal many homeowners desire! Whether straight rows and buzz-cut banks of green, or flowing curved lines and forms, the formal evergreen hedge, border, or backdrop creates a dignified effect on your home’s overall appeal.

Evergreen Holly should be pruned or sheared in the early summer so that any new growth that forms later in the year has time to harden off and mature before the cold season sets in.

Pruning and shearing too late in the season also will remove any potential fruit that these shrubs are typically grown for!

1. The First Year or Two


Very little pruning will be required for young plants. Only snipping off any tips that our out of the range of the rest of the plants. You want them to get established quickly, so minimal pruning is required. Let the plants produce lots of new leaves as they are making new food and it will establish the plants sooner than if you sheared them back at the start.


2. Holly Shearing

green holly

Holly, especially those with smaller leaves like Japanese, Chinese, and Inkberry Holly, can be sheared after flowering for a formal look, but their slower growth means they look just as great when allowed to grow naturally.

When you do shear these plants into hedges, it is very important to be sure the bottom of the plants are left wider than the tops. By doing this, the bottom limbs do not get shaded out by the upper portions (leading to leaf drop since they are of no use to the plant). This will ensure that the plants will always have leaves extending right down to the ground (if this type of screening is desired) and that they will always look best!

This is not only true for a Holly hedge, but for all hedging plants whether they are deciduous or evergreen!

3. The Third Year and Beyond

Maintenance pruning beyond shearing can involve selectively pruning out any growth that sticks out, sections that have died back from injury or winter damage, or anything that seems out of place and makes for an unbalanced shrub. Removing dead or broken branching can be done at any time, but hand pruning for size or shape control is best done after flowering.

Keeping the interior of your shrub free of bare stems, leaf clutter and debris, and open for air circulation/light penetration is important too. Rake out any fallen leaf debris from beneath your hedge or shrub to keep it sanitary.

4. Renewal and Maintenance Pruning

pruning tool

As with any flowering or fruiting shrub, the younger shoots are the most vigorous - both flowering and fruiting. Give your shrub a spa treatment by trimming out the old and letting the new growth have free rein - giving you a bigger and better show of berries and the freshest growth. This is especially true for Winterberry Holly and Meserve Holly.

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 as needed (generally every 3-5 years).

Easy Holly Hedges!

You will be ecstatic with the year-round interest of Holly shrub hedges in your landscape! Nature Hills makes it easy to create the landscape you deserve!

Put Holly to work in your landscape! You'll never regret your decision to include these classic shrubs and trees!

Happy Planting!

shop holly

← Previous Next →