How to Cut Back Holly Bushes


Holly bushes make an attractive winter landscape plant, with their red berries adding visual interest in a sometimes-dreary season. While holly cuttings make a festive holiday decoration, gardeners need to conduct a more serious pruning of this bush than gathering greens for a mantle display. Cut back holly bushes annually to keep the plant cosmetically attractive and healthy.

Step 1

Put on garden gloves to avoid getting pricked by holly leaves. Inspect your holly bush for dead, damaged or diseased limbs. Dead wood will feel hollow to the touch. Diseased and damaged wood will be physically marred with discolored wood or evidence of nicks and cuts.

Step 2

Prepare a 1-to-10 solution of bleach-to-water in a bucket. Dip your pruning tools in this solution, then cut away dead, damaged and diseased wood. Snip off these limbs at their intersection with the trunk or main branch. Use anvil pruners for small cuts and lopping shears for thicker branches that are difficult to cut with the small pruners. Disinfect your pruners between cuts. Dispose of all infected and dead wood in a garbage bin, then disinfect your pruning tools and wipe them dry with a towel. Dispose of the bleach solution.

Step 3

Head back your holly bush to reduce the height. Using your pruners, cut each branch back by the desired number of inches. Cut limbs off just above a node, or swollen joint on the limb. Keep your plant looking neat by heading back branches at the same height.

Step 4

Thin out crowded areas of the canopy to promote air circulation, which keeps holly bushes healthy. Use pruners to remove weak limbs and limbs that press up against other branches. Cut all growth off at the base.

Step 5

Remove low-growing or downward-growing branches from the holly bush by snipping them off at the base. Do not cut into the collar, or the swollen tissue on the trunk that marks the branch intersection with the trunk.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden gloves
  • Anvil pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Bucket


  • University of Rhode Island: Pruning Evergreens
  • South Dakota State University: Shrub, Evergreen and Tree Pruning
Keywords: cut back bush, prune shrub, holly bushes

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Elton Dunn is a freelance writer and nonprofit consultant with 14 years' experience. Dunn specializes in travel, food, business, gardening, education and the legal fields. His work has appeared in various print and online publications. Dunn holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English.