How to Grow a Holly Tree

Last Updated on February 14, 2023 by Derek

Slow growing Holly Tree
Holly Tree branch – traditional and easy to grow

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How to Grow A Holly Tree Step by Step

  1. Identify the type of Holly tree you want: With various holly species available, pick one that thrives well in your climate and surrounding conditions.
  2. Choose a suitable planting site: Hollies flourish in soil that is well-drained and with ample sunlight, either partial or full.
  3. Enrich the soil: A soil rich in organic matter is optimal for holly growth. You can improve the soil by mixing compost or mature manure into the soil before planting.
  4. Plant the holly tree: Ensure the holly is planted at the same depth as it was in its container. After planting, water the holly tree generously.
  5. Maintain adequate moisture: To ensure the holly tree thrives, it needs to be kept moist, particularly in its first year. Regular watering during dry spells is crucial.
  6. Fertilize consistently: Regular fertilization is beneficial for holly growth. Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 formula, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  7. Prune as necessary: Pruning helps promote healthy holly growth and maintain its shape. Prune the holly in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.
  8. Monitor and protect against pests and diseases: Although hollies are relatively resistant to diseases, they may still be susceptible to pests like scale insects and spider mites. Keep a lookout for signs of pest activity and treat promptly when necessary.

Have you often wanted to have a beautiful garden with lots of holly trees? Then this is the perfect article for you!

Video – How many kinds of Holly bush are there?

What is so special about a holly tree?

How to grow a standard holly tree?

Holly trees usually thrive in soil that is moist yet well drained. These trees prefer to grow in places that have light shade or receive sunlight.

To plant holly trees we dig up some soil and make a generous hole of depth 12 inches. We then plant the holly tree roots into the hole.

The next step is to mix organic material such as manure or compost into the soil. Fill the hole in and gently firm the soil around the base of the plant. Water the soil. Holly trees are best planted in autumn or spring.

Holly Tree Care
Common Name Botanical Name Soil pH Range Soil Type Sunshine Growing Zones
Holly Tree Ilex spp. 5.0 – 6.0 Well-draining, moist Full sun to partial shade 5-9

Kentucky Department of Horticulture

Are holly trees easy to grow?

Once planted, holly trees are easy to grow. They will grow in partial shade or in the sun.

Holly tree with leaves and red berries
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Holly tree berries

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They need well drained but moist soil which is mildly acidic. Most hollies are able to adapt to less than ideal growing conditions.

These include partial shade or somewhat dry or swampy soil and this makes them easy to grow. Initial care is pretty easy as it only needs to be watered daily for a week. Fertilise the soil once a year and the plant needs pruning regularly.

How to grow a holly tree from cutting step by step?

Growing a Holly tree from a cutting is a simple process that can be done in the following steps:

  • Select a healthy and mature Holly tree to take the cutting from. The cutting should be taken from a new growth that is at least 6 inches long and has a minimum of 2 leaves.
  • Cut the stem of the selected growth at a 45-degree angle just below a node (where a leaf attaches to the stem).
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem, leaving only 2-3 leaves at the top of the stem.
  • Dip the cut end of the stem into rooting hormone powder to encourage root growth.
  • Fill a pot with well-draining soil and make a hole in the center.
  • Insert the cutting into the soil, making sure that the leaves are not touching the soil.
  • Water the cutting thoroughly to settle the soil around it.
  • Place the pot in a warm, bright, and well-ventilated area, but out of direct sunlight.
  • Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag to create a greenhouse-like environment.
  • Check the soil regularly and water when the soil begins to dry.
  • After 4-6 weeks, roots should have formed, and new growth should be visible. At this point, remove the plastic bag and place the Holly tree in a larger pot, or transplant it into the ground.

Holly cuttings are usually branches taken from newly growing holly bushes. These branches or canes must be cut into 6 inch or 15cm long pieces called cuttings.

Dip these cuttings in a compound used for rooting and plant them in an area that receives complete sunshine. Ensure that the cuttings are completely under the soil surface.

When cutting holly canes from the plant, make sure that you cut at the bottom of the branch below a bud union. Cutting off about three quarters of an inch above another bud union leaves us with a 6 inch cutting that can be planted.

Where do holly trees grow best?

Holly trees grow best in areas receiving full sunlight or partial shade. They also thrive in areas where the soil is moist but well drained. American Holly originated in Massachussets.

The soil has to be moderately acidic. The best soil types for growing holly plants are chalky, clay or loamy soil. Holly does best in regions with moderate temperatures.

USDA – American Holly PDF

How quickly does holly grow?

Holly plants are usually evergreen plants usually seen to bear fruit in the winter month of December. But they are typically slow growing plants.

Female holly plant berries start to turn red as they ripen sometime around autumn. This plant grows at a rate which can be said to be slow or medium.

Germination process is quite long and the plant can take sixteen months to three years to grow from seed. Additionally it may take about another three years for flowers to bloom. 

How long does it take to grow a holly tree?

Holly trees can take up to twenty to twenty-five years to grow completely and reach full maturity and size. Once planted it grows at a slow to medium rate.

It can take about one year to observe an increase of 12 inches to 24 inches in the height of a holly plant. Holly plants generally take 2 to 3 years to bloom but it may take longer for berries to be produced.

Can you grow standard holly trees in pots?

Holly trees can be planted and grown in pots because they are essentially slow growing plants. But care must be taken that the soil in pots is not soggy.

The pots should have a drainage hole. Not all hollies can be grown in pots but some such as Inkberry hollies, Sky Pencil hollies or Japanese hollies can be grown in pots.

Holly plants growing in pots should be kept in a sunny spot for about six hours every day. You must never add rocks or bricks to the pots in which hollies will be grown. Also ensure that there are no air pockets left in the soil in the pot.

Can you grow a holly tree from a holly berry?

Sprig of Holly with leaves and Berries
Each Holly berry carries a tiny seed inside, which can be used to grow another tree

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Yes, holly trees can be grown from seeds which are found inside the holly berries. We have to pick ripe, red berries from holly plants usually seen in winter months of December, January or February.

Break off the skin from holly berries and rinse the seeds in cold water. Plant the seeds and add organic matter to the soil. Growing holly from berries can be a process which requires a lot of patience because it has a long germination period.

Standard holly trees in pots care guide

Potting mix and fertilizer for Holly Tree
A rich potting mixture is the secret to geowing Holly trees indoors in pots

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Holly trees can grow to a height of 12 m. So, if we choose to grow it in a pot, it might be suitable to choose a dwarf holly variety.

Choose a pot large enough to accommodate a holly tree about 20 to 22 inches wide and at least 2 and half feet deep. The pot should have adequate drainage as well.

Water the holly plant until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Put a layer of bark mulch on the soil to retain moisture.

Slow release fertilizers are suitable for hollies in pots. Holly plants growing in pots should be repotted after every few years because the nutrients are depleted over time. 

What to plant with holly bushes?

Shrubs such as hydrangea, viburnum, clematis, boxwood, rhododendrons etc are good companion plants to be grown along with holly bushes. Holly trees grow well in slightly acidic soil and thus plants such as rhododendrons, hydrangea, boxwood shrubs which thrive in slightly acidic soil can grow well along with holly plants.

Holly trees grow to heights of 15 to 50 feet and thus the plants growing around it should be able to withstand shade. Such plants include geraniums, impatiens, torenia, begonia, coleus, pansy, snapdragons among others.

Can you start a holly tree from a branch?

Yes, we can start a holly tree from a branch. Usually, you can grow hollies from cuttings of holly plant branches. Select a healthy branch of an adult holly tree and locate a shoot that is 6 to 8 inches long.

Cut the shoot from the base and separate it from the stem of the branch. Remove any leaves from the stem cutting and dip the cuttings into a rooting hormone. Insert the cutting into the soil so that bottom third is buried in the soil.

Water the soil to ensure that it remains moist. Misting the cuttings with a spray bottle keeps them moist as well.

Different types of holly tree identification

The following are the different types of holly trees that you can get:

  • American holly( Ilex opaca) have spiny leaves, a lot of red berries and grow up to 15 to 60 feet tall. 
  • Carolina holly(Ilex ambigua) is a deciduous variety of holly thriving in sandy soils. It has bright red fruits and green leaves with toothy margins. A height of 15 feet to 20 feet.
  • Altaclere holly( Ilex x altaclerensis) has dark green leave with golden variegation. Known to attract wildlife.
  • Blue holly(Ilex meserveae) are evergreen hollies with showy flowers and thorns. 
  • Catberry(Ilex mucronata) has green leaves and attracts butterflies. It grws in partial shade.
  • Chinese Holly(Ilex cornuta) has spiny leaves that point downwards and these grow in part shade to full sun. 
  • English Holly(Ilex aquifolium) has green leaves with spikes around the edges, and is native to Europe.
  • Hedgehog holly(Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’) has green leaves with butter or white coloured variegation and sharp spiny edges.

FAQ relating to how to grow a holly tree

Can you take cuttings from a holly tree?

Yes, we can take cuttings from a holly tree. Cuttings are usually made of a healthy branch or shoot of an adult holly plant without any diseases.

The cutting must be made from the base of the shoot. We must cut 6 inch pieces from the new growth of a plant.

One end of the cuttings should be dipped in a rooting compound which encourages root growth and makes the process of propagation of plants through cuttings easier.

How long do holly cuttings take to root?

Holly cuttings need to be planted in such a manner that they are completely under the soil surface. You must keep in mind that holly cuttings need 6 to 12 weeks at least to show signs of rooting.

After six weeks one should see some signs of roots forming from the stems of the cuttings. Once the roots have grown up to a few inches we need to plant these cuttings into the soil.

How do you start a holly cutting?

To get a holly cutting, we have to cut ¼ inches below a leaf node. This is because the hormones which stimulate stem cells to turn to rooting cells in turn promoting growth are highly concentrated in these regions.

We need to make sure these cuttings are about 6 to 8 inches long. Dip the tip of the cutting first into water and then into a rooting compound.

How can you tell a male from a female holly tree?

Male holly trees do not produce berries but female holly plants do. Flower of male holly plants have more prominent stamens than those of female trees.

Male holly flowers have four yellow stamens whereas female holly plant flowers have a green ovary at the centre of the flower.

Key Takeaways

  • Holly plants are evergreen or deciduous plants with usually spiny leaves and red berries
  • Holly plants grow well in full sun or partial shade and in moist, well-drained soil.
  • They grow to a height of 15 to 25 feet.
  • They are slow growing plants which are easy to care for once planted.
  • Grow mostly in temperate and subtropical regions of the world with moderate temperatures.
  • You can propagate holly trees through seeds as well as stem cuttings
  • You can grow a few varieties of holly plants in pots
  • Holly plants require organic manure enriched soil and slightly acidic soil is well favored. 
  • There are several different types of holly trees. You can identify them through their foliage, areas they grow in and so on.
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