Trimming Holly Bushes


Holly, known botanically as ilex , is a genus of evergreen shrubs of varying sizes and foliage colorations. The genus has glossy leaves with spines along the margins which can be very hard and sharp or slightly dull. Holly is slow-growing but recovers well from trimming and pruning. Hollies flower in the spring and most species can develop red, white or orange berries in the fall. The leaf spines make heavy gloves necessary when working near or in the plant.

Step 1

Trim your holly shrubs for shape or size in the spring after the last hard frost has passed. Remove branches tips to the desired length. Follow the natural shape of the shrub or trim into a more symmetrical topiary shape. Remove no more than one-third of the plant in any one trimming session in order to reduce stress on the plant and prevent shock.

Step 2

Inspect the plant for damaged, diseased, broken or dead branches, foliage or berry clusters throughout the growing season. Remove any of these that you find, cutting back to a point of healthy wood or down to the trunk of the plant, whichever best preserves the natural or attractive shape of the plant.

Step 3

Harvest healthy branches with berries intact in the late fall and winter for use in cut flower arrangements, wreaths, decorative swags and table centerpieces. Cut branches with secateurs down to the main trunk for larger branches or back to the parent branch for smaller cuttings.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy garden gloves
  • Secateurs
  • Long-handled loppers


  • University of Florida IFAS: Ilex crenata 'Hellerii'
Keywords: holly shrubs, trimming ilex plants, cutting back holly

About this Author

An omni-curious communications professional, Dena Kane has more than 17 years of experience writing and editing content for online publications, corporate communications, business clients, industry journals, as well as film and broadcast media. Kane studied political science at the University of California, San Diego.