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How to Plant a Holly Tree

A holly can be an evergreen (Ilex opaca) shrub or tree, like American holly, or a deciduous variety (Ilex verticillata), like winterberry. The small berries that appear on hollies in the fall can be red, white or deep blue. Plant an evergreen holly with its prickly leaves and berries for easy access to a popular Christmas decorating medium to create a wreath or garland. Though leafless in the winter, twigs of shiny berry clusters on the deciduous holly can be added to a pine wreath. Plant holly in the fall in southern states and in the spring or fall in northern states.

Choose a well-drained location in full sun to part shade. Loose, loamy soil is preferred. The area should be large enough to accommodate the width potential of a mature holly tree (at least 25 feet from any other tree or building) or a row or grouping of shrubs (spaced at least 5 feet apart).

Dig a hole two times as wide as a shrub rootball or three times as wide as a tree rootball. The depth of the hole should be at least as deep as the rootball is tall. When working with clay soil, incorporate up to 50 percent organic matter (commercial organic material or home-grown compost or leaf mold) to the dirt removed from the hole.

Place the rootball in the hole so the top of the rootball is level with the ground. Backfill the hole halfway and then add water to fill the hole. Allow the water to seep out. If planting a burlap-wrapped ball, pull the burlap down to expose the top half of the rootball. Finish backfilling the hole and then water again.

Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Water thoroughly every seven to 10 days in which there is no significant rainfall for the first year.

Prune in early spring, but only to maintain a desired shape. A layer of compost can be added to the ground beneath the canopy of the tree each spring.


In addition to creating a Christmas wreath with holly, you can place short cuttings of leaves and berries in front of each plate at a festive Christmas dining table. Wrap a gold, red or plaid ribbon around the cuttings.

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