Planting Hollies

One of the most beautiful shrubs that you can plant in your landscape are holly shrubs (Ilex species). Most hollies usually has thick, glossy leaves and give your plantings a mature look. Others have softer leaves and lose their leaves in the fall after a frost. There are many types of hollies so we recommend that you do a little research before buying them. Some hollies are tall, others are short, some hollies are evergreen while others are deciduous. Some hollies are grown for their winter interest, not to mention there are male and female plants. Those typically have tags that say what they are and which other holly is best for producing berries. For healthy plants just follow our care tips.


What You Need To Plant Hollies

When you are about to plant your holly, get your tools ready to put it in the ground. Those tools include a sharp shovel, mulch, scissors for cutting twine if it is balled and burlap, utility knife for cutting any girdling roots and a watering can filled with water. A pair of gardening gloves is always helpful too for you.

Where to Plant Hollies

So where do you want to plant your holly? Hollies thrive in full sun (6-8 hours daily) but will tolerate part sun (4-6-hours daily). (Caveat, if you are planting Winterberry hollies, they should be planted in full sun otherwise their fall color is more of a hot pink rather than red.) They require a moist but well-drained, acidic, loamy soil. If you live west of the Mississippi, you should have your soil tested since the soil tends to be more alkaline and may have to amend it there but normally you shouldn’t amend your soil. Plants should never be planted any deeper than the plant is in the container or the burlap.. Choose your spot carefully because hollies are not fond of being moved. Before planting, thoroughly water your holly 24 hours prior to make sure it is well hydrated and will tolerate being transplanted easily.


You should decide why you are planting a holly. Is it for privacy? As a focal point in the garden? Perhaps you want to define a space in the landscape? So if you are planting a holly for privacy, you should consider how tall and how long a space you need for privacy. So hollies such as Berry Heavy® Winterberry Holly or Berry Heavy ® Gold Winterberry will give you privacy during the spring, summer and into the early fall before dropping their leaves. Be sure to plant Mr. Poppins, a male pollinator, for lots of berries. For a hedge or to define a space, Compact Japanese Holly is ideal. You can plant them 4-5 feet apart as a hedge and you can let it grow its natural form or prune it into a more formal shape.

Holly Spacing

When planting more than one holly you should determine how many you will need for your design and how far apart they should be for optimum growth. If you are planting a hedge of hollies such as Castle Wall® Blue Holly or Castle Spire® Blue Holly you should plan on placing them approximately 4 feet apart for best growth and to allow air circulation. You really shouldn’t plant shrubs right next to a building but allow at least 2-3 feet out from a building. You don’t want them under an overhang which will keep them from getting sufficient water and sunlight. They really do prefer full sunlight or very light shade. Also remember before planting how tall they will grow. You don’t want an 8 foot holly in front of your picture window.

Steps To Plant Hollies

Step 1 - When purchasing your holly bush, check for roots coming out of the container or the burlap. That can indicate that the shrub has been in it too long if there are lots of roots.


Step 2 - They prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. The ideal planting hole is 2-3 times the width of the plant and just as deep as the container. Make sure the hole isn’t glazed looking because that can impact root growth. If it is, just loosen it up a bit. Tickle the roots with your fingers to loosen them and to prevent any circling of the roots which is detrimental to the plant.

Step 3 - Gently place the holly in the hole and backfill with the same soil you removed from the hole, minus any rocks and lightly tamp the soil with your hands or the shovel. You just want to remove any large air pockets in the hole. Do not stand on the planting because it can actually smother the roots, effectively killing the plant.

Step 4 - Lightly mulch the shrub with 2 inches of mulch as wide as the base of the plant, taking care to keep it away from the trunk of the plant.

Step 5 - Water it thoroughly including watering all the way around the plant, not just the top of the plant. Water the plant at least once a week until established and especially in dry conditions.

When to Plant Hollies

The ideal time to plant hollies is in cooler weather so do it before the heat of the summer or when temperatures start to cool in the fall. You can plant at other times of the year if necessary. You will have to pay extra attention to watering after planting. You can also use an anti-transpirant such as Wilt-Pruf to reduce the loss of moisture in the leaves. Just follow the directions on the container for proper use.

Transplanting Hollies

You will have to prepare the new hole just as you prepared the original hole. Thoroughly water the entire area and not just the hole the day before transplanting. Preferably it will be a cloudy and cool day for transplanting. Hollies are known not to like being moved around but sometimes it can’t be helped. It isn’t possible to divide hollies like you would perennials since they just have a main trunk.

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Author Denise Schreiber - Published 9-28-2021