Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

Characteristics of a Holly Tree

wild holly image by Joy Prescott from

Holly may remind you of the holiday season. You see it in wreaths hung on decorated doors, in displays around the fireplace or as a centerpiece on the dining room table. It's very festive and bright with its spiky, dark green leaves and bright red berries. The plant grows, at its mature state, to an average of between 15 to 30 feet tall, making it a nice size for landscaping. It can be trimmed and so considered a holly bush (shrub).

Basic Characteristics

American Holly is native to this country. It can be found in most local nurseries and garden centers. It is considered to be a slow growing perennial evergreen. That means it stays green year-round, with no need for replanting every year, as with annuals. It is included in the dicot (dicotyledonous) family category. Dicots have, within the seed embryo of a flowering plant, a pair of leaves. There are many plants in this category, including roses, geraniums, magnolias and hollyhock.

Physical Characteristics

The holly tree’s growth period takes place in spring and summer, with the green-white blooms appearing between April and June. The plant will not flower until it is between four to seven years old. The bark is grayish brown color and is smooth. In perfect conditions, the holly tree can actually grow to a height of 100 feet, but in poor soil locations, such as along the shore, it will only reach shrub height. It has a tendency toward horizontal growth, which gives it a pyramid shape. The spiny dark green, evergreen, 2- to 4-inch leaves are stiff. The bright red (sometimes yellow or orange) berries appear in September or October and may be visible until the next spring. Each berry has a diameter of approximately 1/3 inch.

Gardening Characteristics

The most important aspect of American Holly in gardening is that both male and female genders are needed to produce fruit in the female plants. Three female plants require one male plant--the bees will do the rest. Holly prefers soil that is well-drained, medium moist and slightly acidic, planted in a sunny or partial shade location. Mix compost in the soil before planting your holly tree, and only fertilize with an acid-based fertilizer once a year. Routine annual pruning is required to keep the plant in its natural pyramid shape or a shape and size of your liking. Heavy pruning should take place in winter when it is in a dormant stage.

Garden Guides