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How to Plant Holly? (Complete Guide)


Whether used to form a hedge or a bed, or as a decorative element on our Christmas tables, the holly seduces with its thorny foliage of a beautiful green or variegated and its small bright red berries.


It is very resistant, withstanding the cold, pollution and sea spray. Without a doubt, it is a shrub to have in your garden!


When to plant holly

It is best to plant holly in the fall or spring. In summer, the air is too hot, and in winter, the roots do not have time to settle and develop, they fear frost.


Where to plant holly

Plant holly in humus-rich, deep, well-drained soil that has been amended the previous fall. Avoid calcareous soils. Holly tolerates acidic soils. The holly appreciates a sunny or half-shade exposure. Sufficiently sunny, the holly fruits better, and the variegated leaves are more beautiful.


How to plant holly

  • Form the planting hole, twice as big as the root ball to be buried, put a layer of compost at the bottom of the hole, cover with a little garden soil.
  • Soak the root ball of the holly in a large volume of water, let it drain then put it in the ground.
  • Fill the holes around the root ball with a mixture of garden soil, potting soil or well-decomposed compost.
  • Form a watering basin and water generously.


How to plant a holly hedge

Keep a distance of 1m between each foot for a compact hedge. Holly makes a good defensive hedge.


Cultivation and maintenance of holly

Holly does not require any particular maintenance. However, since it is notoriously drought resistant, do not hesitate to water it regularly during hot spells. Young plants need to be watered more regularly and do not wait for the soil to dry out between waterings. It is possible to mulch their feet in order to maintain the humidity.


Pruning holly

When to prune holly?

Since holly is a slow-growing plant, it does not usually require pruning. However, it is possible to give it a specific shape if necessary. The best time to do this is in late winter or spring. Indeed, pruning in autumn can prevent the appearance of berries.


It is also advisable to wear gloves during this pruning. The operation will mainly consist in removing the misplaced branches, those which cross and those which are dead. The leaves of the holly should not be used as compost. Indeed, they would take a long time to compost since they are very tough.


How to prune holly

  • The best time to prune holly is in late winter.
  • Do not prune in the fall or you will not enjoy its pretty red berries.
  • Use gloves because its prickles can hurt you.
  • Avoid putting the holly in the compost because its leaves are very tough and will take a long time to compost.


How to transplant a holly

An evergreen shrub, holly is planted or transplanted when the soil is still warm: in autumn or spring. It is more prudent to carry out this move in two stages because the recovery is likely to be delicate.


Indeed, the rootlets (young roots) being far from the trunk, it is necessary to excavate a huge rootball.


As of winter

  • Cut with a spade the big roots located at 20 inches from the trunk so that the holly emit rootlets on the scars;
  • Dig a pit to surround them and cut the roots;
  • Backfill with good soil mixed with potting soil and sand.


The following spring

  • Clear the pit, cut the remaining large roots under the holly;
  • Try to keep a clump of soil at the foot to facilitate the recovery;
  • Severely prune the hollies at planting, the wind must not harm them;
  • Water copiously and mulch the base.


Holly diseases and parasites

Holly is generally quite resistant to diseases and parasites, at least if it is grown in good conditions. However, it can be attacked by aphids, mealy bugs or fall victim to the holly fly. To control the latter, remove the affected leaves and burn them.


Rapeseed oil spraying will be a good treatment to get rid of scale insects. Finally, for aphids, introduce ladybugs on the shrub, which are fond of them.


Why does my holly never produce berries?

The common holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a dioecious tree, that is to say that it is divided between male and female plants, only the females bear fruit. The male holly has flowers without pistils (female organs). Those of the female plants do not have stamens (male organs).


To obtain these famous decorative berries, it is best to plant a female holly next winter. There are many varieties, with different colored berries: orange, yellow (‘Bacciflava’) and even black. These varieties are sometimes difficult to find.


Are there hollies without any thorny leaves?

Among the 800 species of holly listed around the world, there are indeed species without thorns or, more precisely, without any leaves. This is the case of ‘Ilex crenata’ with round leaves, without thorns. Some hollies have nothing to do, at least in their appearance, with the common holly (‘Ilex aquifolium’), which we decorate our houses with.

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