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How to Care for Holly Plants

By Willow Sidhe ; Updated September 21, 2017

Holly plants are slow-growing, ornamental trees native to North America. Most well-known for their use as holiday decorations, hollies produce evergreen foliage and bright red or blue decorative berries. Mature holly plants can reach up to 50 feet in height and 40 feet in width, although they are easy to keep under control in the home garden with careful pruning. Holly plants are popular for ornamental landscaping, hedges and borders, and they may live for up to 100 years with proper care.

Transplant container-grown holly plants in spring after the last frost of the year. Choose a planting location that is protected from harsh winter winds, receives full sun to light shade and has well-drained, loamy, slightly-acidic soil.

Dig a planting hole twice as wide as the roots and of equal depth, place the holly plant in the hole and back-fill it with soil. Mix some of the soil from the container with the soil used to back-fill the planting hole to create a gradual change from one soil to another.

Water holly plants thoroughly just after planting to compact the soil. Continue watering once every 10 to 14 days for the first year of growth, allowing the soil to dry out between applications. Holly cannot tolerate overly moist soil.

Apply a 2-to-3 inch layer of mulch around the base of holly plants just after planting to help conserve moisture. Apply the mulch in a band beginning 2 to 3 inches from the base of the plants to allow room for growth. Refresh the mulch layer whenever it becomes visibly deteriorated.

Feed holly plants once per year in early fall using an acid-based fertilizer to encourage new growth. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for the correct dosage. Water thoroughly before and after applying the fertilizer to prevent root injury.

Prune holly plants only after they have been established in the same location for three to four years. Use pruning shears to cut back berry-laden stems in the late fall, which will keep the plant small, compact and manageable.


Things You Will Need

  • Mulch
  • Fertilizer
  • Pruning shears


  • Holly plants will grow in shade, but produce more attractive foliage and more abundant berries when grown in full sun. Foliage may also turn yellow if grown in soil with a high pH.
  • No supplemental watering is required after the first year, when plants are well established. Mature hollies thrive on neglect, aside from the occasional feeding and pruning.
  • Use pine needles to mulch holly plants for the best results. Pine needles increase the acidity of the soil as they decompose, and holly loves slightly-acidic soil. Bark mulch may also be used, if necessary.


  • The leaves and berries of holly plants are toxic if ingested.

About the Author


Willow Sidhe is a freelance writer living in the beautiful Hot Springs, AR. She is a certified aromatherapist with a background in herbalism. She has extensive experience gardening, with a specialty in indoor plants and herbs. Sidhe's work has been published on numerous Web sites, including Gardenguides.com.