How to Prune Ilex Glabra


An amazingly adaptable shrub for a wide array of growing conditions, the inkberry (Ilex glabra) can be grown and pruned much like boxwood. Having dark green leaves that may blush purplish in winter's cold, a light sheering or branch tip pruning in spring or summer can keep an inkberry shrub at a pleasant size and shape.

Tip Pruning

Step 1

Examine the shrub, looking for dead, diseased or awkwardly long or unattractive branches.

Step 2

Snip the branch with the hand pruners 1/4-inch above a leaf, making a crisp, one-motion cut. Reduce the branch length to a desired length, but avoid cutting branches back so far into wood that lacks any foliage.

Step 3

Even out the trip pruning across the shrub so it looks balanced and well-shaped. Allow the lower-most branches to sprawl outward slightly so ample light reaches them. Branches that are shaded by upper foliage often lose their foliage, becoming barren twigs.


Step 1

Look at the inkberry and determine the more geometric form you wish the shrub to have. Naturally it will have a mounding to rounded form, and keeping that general shape will lessen the need for pruning maintenance and make the plant look its best in the landscape.

Step 2

Begin sheering branch tips and foliage at the top of the shrub, establishing the curvature and height you desire. First take off no more than 1-inch of growth and re-evaluate. Try to get the sheer blades to cut into the stems rather than coarsely tearing into the oval leaves, leaving jagged and messy edges.

Step 3

Continue lightly sheering the shrub, retaining the overall general mounding shape. Gently taper the sides of the inkberry, allowing lowermost branches to sprawl out slightly so they receive ample light.

Step 4

Brush out cut leaves and stem tips after the sheering to tidy the shrub. Over the next 1 to 2 weeks, any clippings left in the shrub will yellow and brown, looking unattractive.

Step 5

Scatter small clipping debris under the inkberry to act as a mulch and to provide organic matter and nutrients to the plant as it decomposes.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners (secateurs)
  • Hedge sheers


  • "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs"; Michael A. Dirr; 1997.
  • Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extension: Pruning Woody Landscape Plants
  • "Pruning Shrubs"; Erv Evans; 2003.

Who Can Help

  • Ilex glabra and cultivars
Keywords: inkberry, pruning shrubs, Ilex glabra

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.