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With glossy green leaves and festive red berries, holly bushes are one of our favorite shrubs. These hardy, low-maintenance evergreens make a beautiful addition to any landscape. Here's how to grow and care for a holly bush in your garden.
- Botanical Name: Ilex spp.
- Common Name: Holly, American holly, English holly, common holly, Christmas holly
- Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
- Mature Size: Six to 50 feet tall and three to 40 feet wide
- Sun Exposure: Full to part sun
- Soil Type: Loamy, well-drained soil
- Soil pH: 5.0 - 6.0
- Toxicity: Berries are toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses
You'll have the best chance of success if you plant your holly bush in cool weather. Depending on your growing zone, that could be early spring, late fall, or even early winter.
Dig a hole about three times as wide as the root ball. The hole should be a little shallower than the height of the root ball so that the top of the root ball will be level with or slightly above the soil line. Fill in with soil and water thoroughly.
Keep the soil around newly planted holly bushes lightly moist but not soggy. Be sure to water your holly bush during hot, dry periods with less than one inch of rain per week. To keep weeds down and help retain moisture during summer, mulch around the base of the bush. Feed your holly bush once per year in the spring with a balanced fertilizer or fertilizer designed for acid-loving shrubs like evergreens and azaleas.
To keep your holly bush at an appropriate size, it's a good idea to begin pruning back established plants in early winter or late fall after five or six years of growth. Young plants can be damaged by pruning, so for those first few years, it's a good idea to leave young holly bushes alone and source winter holiday greenery from elsewhere.
Best Growing Conditions for Holly Bush
Carefully consider the site where you'll plant your holly bush because these plants do not like to be transplanted. Choose a spot with ample space for the species you're planting. Holly bushes do best in full sun (at least six hours per day) and rich, well-drained soil, but they can adapt to part sun conditions as well.
Types of Holly Bush
Different types of holly will grow well in different growing zones, so be sure to check that the species you plant can survive in your region. You'll also want to consider the size of the holly you choose and make sure it's appropriate for the site, as some max out at around six feet tall while others can grow up to 50 feet tall.
If you're hoping to enjoy the bright red berries that certain species of holly bushes grow in spring, note that some species require a male and a female plant to fruit. Look for species that don't require a male plant to produce berries, or plan to add both a male and a female holly bush to your garden.
How to Propagate Holly Bush
You can propagate a holly bush from cuttings. The best time to do this is between fall and early spring. Here's how to propagate holly using cuttings.
What You'll Need
- Healthy, mature plant
- Sharp, sterilized shears or pruners
- Gardening gloves
- Small plant pots
- Soilless rooting medium such as peat, perlite, or sand
- Rooting hormone
- Clear plastic bag
Step 1: Fill plant pots with soilless rooting medium and poke a hole a few inches deep.
Step 2: Cut four-inch stem tips just below a leaf node. Cut away all the leaves except the top two.
Step 3: Dip the cut end of the stems in water, then in rooting hormone powder. Plant the cuttings in the pots. Water the cuttings and keep the soil evenly moist.
Step 4: Keep the cuttings in a place with bright, indirect light and a temperature around 65 degrees. Cover the cuttings with clear plastic to hold humidity, and keep the soil evenly moist.
Step 5: The holly cuttings will root in two and a half to four months. Once they are rooted, you can acclimate them to the outdoors, plant them, and care for them as usual.
Common Problems With Holly Bush
While holly bushes are quite low-maintenance, they can have some issues caused by pests and plant diseases. Root rot can cause branches to brown and die back, but the best way to treat this is by avoiding the issue altogether. Be sure to inspect new holly plants before planting and return any with blackened roots.
Another common issue is leaf scorch, which occurs during dry winter weather when the ground is still frozen. Leaves will brown from the tips, or tan spots will appear. Once again, prevention is the best medicine. Mulching and watering well as winter transitions to spring can prevent leaf scorch.
Is Holly Bush Easy to Care For?
Yes. Once holly bushes are established, they are very low-maintenance plants.
How Fast Does Holly Bush Grow?
Holly grows more slowly than many shrubs, but plants can still add anywhere from 12 to 24 inches in height each year in the proper conditions.
Can Holly Bush Grow Indoors?
Generally, holly bushes can't be kept indoors for an extended period of time, because they need winter cold to grow the following spring. However, potted holly plants are often sold around the winter holidays as indoor ornamental plants.
If you'd like to keep the plant through winter, put it in a spot with lots of sun and let it dry out between waterings. You can try repotting it or planting it outdoors in the spring. If possible, try to identify the type of holly, as some varieties sold at nurseries and gift shops may not be winter hardy in your area.
Holiday Plants with Toxic Misconceptions. National Library of Medicine. December 2012
American Holly. ASPCA