How to Care for the Holly Bush

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Holly bushes provide winter cover for birds and other animal visitors.
Holly bushes provide winter cover for birds and other animal visitors. (Image: holly image by david purday from Fotolia.com)

As an evergreen, hollies add rich color to the landscape year-round. While most hollies are evergreen, some deciduous varieties do exist. These bushes produce deep, glossy-green leaves in all seasons and bright-red berries in the fall and winter. There are both small holly varieties that are suitable as accent plants and tall varieties that work well as formal hedges. Relatively pest-free, hollies grow well in most gardens with a minimal amount of care.

Things You'll Need

  • Mulch
  • Fertilizer
  • Pruning shears

Plant holly bushes in an area that isn't prone to standing water from rain or snow melt. Choose an area that receives full sunlight throughout the day, or morning sun and afternoon shade if full sun isn't feasible.

Water the holly once a week or when the soil feels dry at the top 2 inches, irrigating at the base of the trunk. Moisten the top 8 inches of soil at each irrigation. Water in winter when the ground is not frozen.

Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as compost or wood chips, on top of the bush's soil. Leave a 2-inch space between the mulch and the trunk, otherwise pests nesting in the mulch may damage the wood. Mulch retains moisture and also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.

Fertilize holly in the fall, six weeks before the first expected frost. Apply an acid-based fertilizer formulated for evergreens at the rate recommended on the package.

Prune the holly bush as desired to shape it or control its spread. Cut back overgrown branches to within 1/4 inch of a leaf or bud. Cut out single sprigs of holly for flower arrangements and holiday displays as desired. Prune holly lightly at any time, though severe pruning must be done in winter, after the berries have formed.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some hollies require fertilization from a male plant to produce berries. Check with the nursery at the time of purchase to verify that the type of holly you choose is self-fertilizing.
  • Holly leaves have sharp spikes. Wear gloves when working around or pruning the bush.
  • Overwatering and overly wet soils can lead to root rot, which kills the holly bush.

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