Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Remove a Holly Bush

Holly and Berries image by TMLP from

There are over 300 varieties of holly bushes, about 20 of which are native to the United States. They are well known for their red berries that adorn the landscape with a splash of color during the winter months and are used during the winter holidays for wreaths and other decorations. If you have a holly bush that you want to remove, whether to get rid of it or to transplant it, it can be done successfully. However, you may need to recruit the help of your friends, especially for large, well-established bushes.

Water your holly bush with a couple inches of water 2 to 3 days prior to removing it. Do this if the soil is dry and rain is not in the forecast. Wet soil is easier to dig through than hard, dry soil. In addition, if you are transplanting your holly bush, water will hydrate it before the stressful move.

Wear thick work gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Holly bushes have prickly leaves that will scratch your skin. They may also rip your clothing, so choose thick old work clothes if possible.

Cut down the entire bush within 12 to 18 inches of the ground if you are throwing out your holly bush. Lopping shears will suffice for smaller bushes; for larger bushes with thicker branches, you may need a handsaw or chainsaw. If you are transplanting your bush, skip this step.

Dig straight down with a shovel or spade around your holly bush. If you getting rid of your bush, dig a 12- to 16-inch circle around the base of your plant. If you are transplanting your holly, dig at least a 16-inch circle around your bush, but dig further out as you feel large clumps of roots. The more roots you can get, the more likely the bush will survive the transplant.

Cut under the root ball beginning about 6 to 8 inches deep. Cut in at an angle so that you get at least 12 inches beneath the center of the root ball. As you feel large roots, adjust your digging to get those roots, especially if you are transplanting it.

Grab hold of your bush, begin to rock it and then pull it out of the soil. You can also push down on the shovel or spade to lift it up. Be careful not to break your tools during this step. It may take several people to successfully remove the bush. Set it in a wheelbarrow for easy transport to the next location.


Transplant holly bushes in the spring. For a more successful transplant, in the fall, dig around the base of your bush (at least 16 inches around) and go about 12 to 15 inches deep. This is called “root pruning” and helps the bush prepare for transplanting. For larger holly bushes, dig an 8- to 12-inch trench (12 to 15 inches deep) around your bush.

Garden Guides