Overgrown bushes are a plague upon new homeowners. Years of neglect create a situation that a new owner has to correct, often with severe measures. Holly is a bush that can handle a great deal of pruning without being destroyed. As with any bush that requires a heavy-handed correction, an overgrown holly will benefit from proper pruning technique.
Types of Holly
There are several kinds of holly that are commonly grown in America. Determining the type of holly you are dealing with will help you plan the best pruning for that specific bush. Japanese hollies are small bushes, 3 to 10 feet tall, with spineless leaves and black berries. Chinese hollies grow 10 to 15 feet tall, have dark, spiny leaves and can produce berries without a pollinator. American hollies are often grown as trees, since they can reach upward of 50 feet in height. They also sport green spiny leaves and red berries.
When to Prune
American, Chinese and Japanese hollies can be pruned lightly throughout the year. Some homeowners wait until close to December to do any major pruning in order to use the trimmings for holiday decoration. Chinese and Japanese hollies may require regular light pruning to maintain a sculpted shape, such as a hedge form.
Selectively prune American hollies by cutting back branches at a node above a lateral bud. When pruning the American holly, do so with the overall shape of the plant in mind. Remove any dead or diseased wood and thin some branches back to a main branch or trunk in areas where many limbs are crowded together. Chinese or Japanese hollies also can be pruned to more regular shapes owing to their bushier forms. It is not necessary to wound dress hollies.
In the case of a severely overgrown holly bush, it may be desirable to severely prune the plant. Rejuvenation pruning encourages new growth and often gives an old shrub new vigor. Wait to do a rejuvenation pruning until early spring, after all threat of frost has passed. Cut the entire plant near the ground, leaving only 6 to 8 inches of growth. New shoots will soon emerge from the base of the plant, allowing you the opportunity to train the holly bush properly.