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Pruning reverted green growth from a variegated holly

Tips for pruning holly

Published: Tuesday, 18 January, 2022 at 12:26 pm

We show you how to prune different types of holly.

Hollies are amenable trees – they're easy to care for, need little attention and respond well to hard pruning.

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They're more versatile plants that you might think. Some, like Ilex crenata and the deciduous Ilex verticillata, don't look like hollies at all.

Keep in mind that most hollies are unisexual, meaning the flowers of each tree are single sex, so you'll need a male and female tree for pollination to occur and fruit to set. It's the female that produces fruit, so the male plant can be grown on the boundary out of sight, if needed. Of course, you could also grow a self-fertile variety like 'J.C. can Tol'.

You will need:

The right tool is essential for this task - for more information read our guide to tools for pruning. If you're looking to update your kit, our experts have been busy testing the best secateurs, so you can buy with confidence.

In a hurry? Here are the best buys from this test:

Discover more information on hollies in this video on growing hollies with Carol Klein.

Follow our simple advice on pruning hollies, below.

Lower branches

Lower holly branches can accumulate dead wood, especially in shady areas. Remove these, as well as branches that are diseased, dying or rubbing against each other. Some hollies throw out awkward shoots – prune them back to just above a bud.

Pruning a dead branch from a variegated holly

Reducing a large holly

Tidy up a holly that is getting too big for its position by cutting each branch to create a good shape. In limited spaces, create a standard holly by removing all sideshoots from the trunk up to the required height.

Pruning holly sideshoots

Japanese hollies

Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) grown as hedges or topiary should be clipped in May and September to keep their shape. They'll make fresh growth from brown wood if more drastic pruning is needed.

Pruning a Japanese holly hedge into shape

Variegated holly

Variegated hollies occasionally have branches that revert to the plain green of their parent. Prune this out promptly, cutting just back into wood displaying the variegated leaves you want.

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Pruning reverted green growth from a variegated holly
Corkscrew, narrow green leaves of Ilex aquifolium 'Lichtenthalii'

Unusual hollies to grow

  • Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava' – evergreen, yellow-fruited variety (female). Buy from Gardening Express
  • Ilex x koehneana 'Chestnut Leaf' – evergreen, chestnut like leaves held on downward sweeping branches (female). Buy from Majestic trees
  • Ilex crenata – small evergreen leaves and black berries, good for hedging. Buy from Crocus and Gardening Express
  • Ilex aquifolium 'Lichtenthalii' – narrow evergreen leaves with a slight corkscrew shape. A rare cultivar for the collector.
  • Ilex verticillata – deciduous holly with masses of red berries in winter. Buy from Gardening Express
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