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How to Care for Dwarf Holly Bushes

By Kimberly Sharpe ; Updated September 21, 2017
Foliage of a dwarf holly bush.

The holly (Ilex) family has 29 American species, 200 English species and 120 Oriental species. The sizes of the various holly range from dwarf varieties to towering holly plants that reach 50 feet when fully grown. Many gardeners choose to plant the dwarf varieties because they fit into any landscape wonderfully, they make perfect foundation plantings and are ideal for bordering walkways. The plants are easy to care for and their growth habit is quite consistent. Dwarf holly species are comprised of both male shrubs and female. Both need to be planted for berry production to take place. Despite having a pollinator, many dwarf species will still never produce berries.

Choose a planting location for dwarf holly that offers full sun or dappled shade. The soil should be well draining because the dwarf holly plant does not like waterlogged roots.

Plant holly plants 4 to 5 feet apart. Most holly plants grow far wider then they do tall. Be sure to plant at least 4 to 5 feet back from walkways or foundations to allow the plants ample room to bush outward. Spacing the plants out also allows ample airflow to reduce risks of fungus attacking the holly.

Dig a hole twice the size of the holly plant's root ball. Work 50 percent peat moss with 50 percent garden soil to plant the dwarf holly within. Set the plants into a hole with the top of their root ball level with the top line of the soil. Push the garden soil into the hole surrounding the plant. Press the garden soil down firmly to remove air pockets.

Water the dwarf holly thoroughly and then apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the plant. Use peat moss, sawdust, bark chips, recycled plastic mulch or pine needles for mulch. Mulch shades the plants roots, aids in keeping the soil moist during hot days, aids in wintertime protection and keeps weeds out of the flowerbed.

Water holly every few days during the growing season. Holly requires moist soil conditions to set berries. Do not water-log the plant, but simply make sure the soil stays moist. The plants can withstand drought conditions, but they do not like it.

Apply a liquid fertilizer to dwarf holly shrubs every two weeks. Use a 20-20-20 fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer according to the directions on the label.

Prune the dwarf holly in the spring to retain a cylindrical shape. Cut the top branches shorter then the lower branches. Simply trim back using a pair of hand-held pruning shears to the desired shape. The top branches need to be shorter then the bottom branches so they don't shade the lower branches. If the lower branches of the dwarf holly plant are in the shade, they will lose their leaves and be unsightly.


Things You Will Need

  • Peat moss
  • Mulch
  • Shovel
  • Liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer
  • Hand-held pruning shears
  • Systemic insecticide


  • According to the University of Florida, the dwarf holly plant does not suffer from major pests or diseases.
  • A few dwarf varieties of holly will suffer minor attack by the leaf miner. The tiny beetle eats the interior of the holly leaf and leaves a tiny zigzag black trail on the leaf. Treat with a systemic insecticide. Follow the directions on the label for application. Remove infected leaves and discard.

About the Author


Based in Oregon, Kimberly Sharpe has been a writer since 2006. She writes for numerous online publications. Her writing has a strong focus on home improvement, gardening, parenting, pets and travel. She has traveled extensively to such places as India and Sri Lanka to widen and enhance her writing and knowledge base.