Ilex aquifolium

How to grow holly

Find out all you need to know about growing holly (Ilex) in this detailed Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Plant
Plant

Do Plant in January

Do Plant in February

Do not Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do not Plant in June

Do not Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do Plant in November

Do Plant in December

Flowers
Flowers

Plant does not flower in January

Plant does not flower in February

Plant does not flower in March

Plant does not flower in April

Plant does flower in May

Plant does flower in June

Plant does not flower in July

Plant does not flower in August

Plant does not flower in September

Plant does not flower in October

Plant does not flower in November

Plant does not flower in December

Prune
Prune

Do not Prune in January

Do Prune in February

Do Prune in March

Do not Prune in April

Do not Prune in May

Do not Prune in June

Do not Prune in July

Do not Prune in August

Do not Prune in September

Do not Prune in October

Do not Prune in November

Do not Prune in December

Holly, Ilex aquifolium, typically has dark green, spiny leaves and bright red berries. However, there are many different varieties of holly with different coloured laves and berries – more than 400 from around the world.

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The holly (Ilex) genus ranges from small shrubs to large climbers, with diverse leaf shapes, textures and variegation and berries of different colours. Although holly will always be synonymous with Christmas, it has a life well beyond the festive period. It’s easy to grow and makes a great addition to gardens as an evergreen architectural specimen, clipped bush or hedge.

Watch our No Fuss video guide with Kevin Smith, as he demonstrates how to make a Christmas star using holly:

More on growing holly:


Where to grow holly

How to grow holly - where to grow holly
How to grow holly – where to grow holly

Most holly varieties thrive in moist, but well-drained soil in sun or shade.


How to plant holly

How to grow holly - how to plant holly
How to grow holly – how to plant holly

Plant holly bushes in the winter months. Dig a generous hole for your plant, incorporating well rotted garden compost into the soil. Back fill and firm down gently around the base of the plant.


How to care for holly

How to grow holly - how to care for holly
How to grow holly – how to care for holly

Hollies are slow-growing plants that are easy to care for. If you want Christmas berries, these are produced on female plants in late autumn to mid-winter. To get them, you need both a male and female plant to ensure cross-pollination, so always plant two. You can recognise male and female hollies from their flowers – the male flowers have more prominent stamens. It’s important to remember that the berries can be harmful to humans if eaten.

Prune hollies according to your requirements. They respond well to cutting back and can be trimmed into formal shapes and hedges, or left more free-form. Pruning should be done in late summer, before the new growth becomes woody. Read our tips for pruning holly.

If you have inherited an overgrown holly, stagger any hard pruning over two or three years to reshape it.

Watch Carol Klein discuss growing holly with an expert at RHS Rosemoor in our video guide:


How to propagate holly

How to grow holly - picking holly berries
How to grow holly – picking holly berries

Hollies can be grown from seed. Collect seed from the berries in December, January and February. Remove the flesh of the berries and rinse the small seeds. Then plant them into compost and leave to germinate outdoors.

Or you can take semi-ripe cuttings in August and September when you carry out your formative pruning; or take hardwood cuttings in winter.


Growing holly: problem solving

How to grow holly - problem-solving
How to grow holly – problem-solving

Hollies are robust and relatively trouble free. However, they can be affected by holly leaf blight. This is a fungal infection of the leaves, caused by Phytophthora ilicis, which causes discoloration to leaves and stems and loss of foliage. It requires cool, damp conditions to flourish and is believed to have come from North America. It has become more of a problem over the past decade and records show it’s more common among these varieties:  I. aquifolium, I. crenata, I. × altaclarensis, I. dipyrena and I. kingiana, I. colchica, I. pernyi var. veitchii and some clones of I. apaca. There is no treatment currently available, but if you spot blotchy leaves, cut out the infected area and burn the trimmings to prevent it spreading.

Holly leaf miner is a small fly with larvae that causes patches and blotches by feeding inside holly leaves. It doesn’t harm the plant overall, but looks unsightly. The best method of treatment is removing the affected leaves by hand and destroying them.


Holly varieties to grow

How to grow holly - varieties to grow
How to grow holly – varieties to grow
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  • Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Milkmaid’ – an attractive variegated holly, bearing spiny, dark green leaves with a creamy white variegation. Red berries may be produced in autumn.
  • Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ – a male holly, with distinctive silver margins on its spiny and glossy green leaves. The stems and young foliage are purple.
  • Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Belgica Aurea’ – leaves are dark green with a yellow edge, about 10cm in length. It’s one of a group of robust hybrid hollies with larger leaves and berries.
  • Ilex dimorphophylla ‘Hollywood’ – a Japanese holly with a rounded, compact form , well suited to small gardens and also for growing as a bonsai. It has small, glossy, spiny and ovate leaves that stay bright green all year and red berries in autumn.
  • Ilex x koehneana ‘Chestnut Leaf’ – a cross between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex latifolia. It bears glossy green chestnut-like leaves with lots of red berries in late autumn. Fast growing, it quickly grows into a pyramid-shaped tree.