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Learn how to Grow Holly

Written by Stephanie on May 29th, 2013

The Holly genus, Ilex, has over 400 species and ranges from small, eighteen in plants to fifty foot trees.  Some are evergreen and some are deciduous.  The smaller holly plants make good foundation and border plants while the trees can be grown into an impenetrable hedge or fence.

Most hollies require well drained soil with good organic matter and a slightly acid pH.  They should be set out in the fall for best growth and the highest chance of survival.  Some hollies require both a male and female plant to set fruit so check with your nursery when you buy them to see if you need both types of plants.

Hollies can be grouped into different types.  The Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) are short, three to ten feet high, evergreen shrubs.  They have short, spineless leaves and black fruit.  They actually look more like a boxwood than a holly.  These hollies tolerate severe pruning and can be grown into a hedge or fence.  They can also be used for topiatries.  The most popular varieties of Japanese hollies are:

  • ‘Helleri’ is a compact form, which reaches 4 feet at maturity.
  • ‘Convexa’ has dark-green leaves, is a heavy fruit producer and may reach 9 feet tall and 24 feet wide.
  • ‘Hetzii’ is a dwarf form of ‘Convexa’ and grows 2 to 3 feet in height.
  • ‘Roundleaf’ is a male selection that does not produce berries. Plants grow 5 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 12 feet wide.

The Chinese hollies (Ilex cornuta) are large, ten to fifteen or more feet tall.  These are one of the few hollies that produce berries without pollination.  These hollies have large, spiny, shiny green leaves.  The most popular Chinese hollies are:

  • ‘Burfordii’ or Burford holly grows to 20 feet tall and wide. The heavy fruit set attracts many birds.
  • ‘Rotunda’ or Dwarf Chinese holly grows only to 3 to 4 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Plants usually do not produce berries.
  • ‘Berries Jubilee’ is a dome-shaped plant, 6 to 10 feet tall, with large leaves and a heavy crop of large, bright red berries.

American hollies (Ilex opaca) are the traditional Christmas holly with the spiny leaves and red berries.  They can grow to fifty feet tall if not pruned.  These hollies make a good fence or screen for a yard.  When heavily pruned, they can be used as foundation plantings and border plants.  For years, people have planted these trees under their windows to deter burglars.  The most popular American holliies are:

  • ‘Dan Fenton’ has large, glossy leaves.
  • ‘Jersey Delight’ and ‘Jersey Princess’; ‘Jersey Knight’ is the male pollen source.
  • ‘Merry Christmas’ with glossy, deep green leaves and red berries.
  • ‘Stewart’s Silver Crown’ with leaves edged in cream and marbled with gray green.
  • ‘Yellow Berry’ with bright yellow berries.

English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen tree that grows quite slowly.  It dislikes low temperatures and poor drainage.  The leaves are shiny, spiny, and some have variegated leaves.  It also has red berries.

Finally, Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is native to the United States from New York to central Florida and west to Texas.  It grows wild as a three to ten foot tree with red berries on the female plants.  Yaupon holly tolerates wind and drought better than most of the evergreen hollies.  Some of the most popular yaupon hollies are:

  • ‘Nana’ or ‘Dwarf Yaupon Holly,’ a small, mound-like shrub, 3 to 5 feet high and very broad;
  • ‘Pendula’, a weeping type, reaching 15 to 20 feet with beautiful fruit.

As you can see, there is a holly for almost every purpose and one of almost every size.


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