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How to Grow Holly Bushes

By Willow Sidhe ; Updated September 21, 2017
Holly sprig.
holly berries image by Edsweb from Fotolia.com

The Holly, or Ilex, genus contains more than 400 different species, many of which are native to North America. Holly bushes vary widely in size and appearance, but all types have similar growing and care requirements. Gardeners use smaller holly varieties, such as Japanese holly, for hedge or foundation plantings and larger types, such as Chinese or American holly, for screens and privacy hedges. Valued for their glossy, evergreen foliage and bright red berries, holly bushes brighten the winter landscape when most other garden plants lie dormant.

Transplant holly bushes into the garden during early fall, before the first frost of the season. Choose a planting site that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day for the best results. Hollies can tolerate partial shade, but berry production will be reduced.

Use a shovel to dig a hole in the soil of equal depth and twice as wide as the plant's root ball. Set the root ball in the hole and gently back-fill with soil. Water immediately to bring moisture into contact with the roots and compact the soil. Space holly bushes 3 to 12 feet apart.

Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch to the ground surrounding holly bushes to prevent the growth of weeds and insulate the soil. Leave at least 3 inches between the mulch and the base of the bushes to allow for air circulation.

Water holly bushes once per week during the first month of growth to help the roots become established. Reduce the frequency of watering thereafter to once every 10 days, but only during periods of drought or extreme heat.

Feed once per year during early spring to provide a burst of new growth. Use an all-purpose 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer to provide proper nutrients for foliage and berry formation. Apply at the rate recommended by the manufacturer.

Prune once each year in late winter, while the plants are still dormant. Use pruning shears to remove all diseased, damaged or excessively long branches to promote a compact growth habit and increase aesthetic appeal.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel
  • Mulch
  • Fertilizer
  • Pruning shears


  • Some varieties of holly are dioecious, meaning they require both a male and female plant to produce berries. One male bush is capable of fertilizing 5 to 10 female bushes.
  • Use a heavy mulch such as wood chips for holly bushes.


  • Wear gloves when handling holly bushes, as some varieties have barbed leaves.
  • Do not to over-fertilize, as too much nitrogen will reduce berry production.

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.