Shiny pointed leaves and red berries form the distinctive features on holly shrubs. Holly shrubs can be used as decorative additions to wreaths and centerpieces during the holiday season. Some varieties of these hardy shrubs retain their leaves throughout the winter, offering gardeners a beautiful option for a yearlong handsome shrub. Holly shrubs need little pruning except to retain shape. Learning how to prune holly shrubs involves the ability to recognize dead areas on the plant and to control outward growth.
Schedule your pruning for midwinter (during the holiday season) or at the end of winter. Holly shrubs tolerate pruning, although you don't want to limit the production of berries by cutting off too much new growth. For most flowering and berry-producing shrubs, prune as soon as possible after the plant flowers for best results.
Wear thick gloves and a long-sleeved shirt to limit stabbing and scratches from the pointy holly leaves.
Locate damaged areas of the shrub and prune back these branches first. Angle your pruning clippers or loppers to trim a 45-degree cut that will limit wound size. Clip back each damaged branch to the meeting point with another branch or to a side shoot. Leave no more than 1/4 inch of growth above the shoot.
Locate and prune back any branches that extend beyond the natural shape of the plant.
Step back and look at the overall shape of the plant. If you prefer to perform maintenance pruning to thin out the holly shrub, choose branches at regular intervals throughout the plant for pruning. This type of renewal pruning allows light inside the interior of the shrub to promote new growth and follows the natural growth pattern of the shrub.
Choose branches to remove and work your way evenly around the shrub, clipping each branch at a 45-degree angle above a shoot. Avoid drastic pruning since this will remove most of the new growth toward the ends of the branches, leaving the interior old wood. The best pruning practice involves taking a measured approach with annual pruning to control growth.