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Ilex aquifolium
Ilex aquifolium

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Zones 4-9, 14-17, 31-34, H1
Full SunPartial Sun
Full, Partial
Regular Water
Berries poisonous.

Ilex aquifolium

English Holly
Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees


Many hundreds of species and hybrids exist. Smaller kinds are attractive as foundation plantings or low hedges; larger evergreen sorts make attractive and impenetrable tall hedges or screens. In size, they range from foot-high dwarfs to trees 40–50 ft. tall. 

Nearly all holly plants are either male or female, and as a rule both sexes must be present in order for female plants to set fruit. Best bet is to plant a male of the same species as the fruiting females; if you use a different species, berries will form only if both plants flower at the same time. 

Most hollies prefer rich, slightly acid garden soil with good water drainage. (A few exceptions are noted.) All appreciate a mulch to deter weeds and keep soil cool and moist. Though plants will grow in sun or part shade, choose a sunny spot for best berry production and most compact growth. Scale can cause problems in all holly-growing areas. Holly bud moth and leaf miner need attention on English holly in the Northwest; for control, employ only products currently registered for use against those pests. Diseases are rarely a problem for home gardeners.

Most hollies tend to be dense and symmetrical. Prune mainly to remove poorly placed, broken, or dead branches. Winter holiday season is a good time to prune, because clipped branches can be used for indoor decoration. You can restore a holly that has become too open or ragged by severely shortening its branches and allowing new growth to fill in. Small-leafed hollies can be sheared into formal hedges or topiary figures.

Ilex aquifolium

Evergreen shrub or tree native to southern and central Europe and Great Britain. Slow growth to 40 ft. tall and 25 ft. wide, usually much less. Highly variable in leaf shape, color, and degree of spininess. Some varieties produce seedless berries without a pollenizer, but these berries are usually small, slow to develop, and quick to drop. In the Northwest, where this holly is invasive, we recommend only male or seedless female varieties. Give partial shade where hot. Resistant to oak root fungus.

‘Big Bull’: Very ornamental male with large, nearly smooth-edged leaves.

‘Ferox’: Male with sterile pollen. Twisted, fiercely spined leaves are what give it its common names (Hedgehog, Porcupine Holly).

‘San Gabriel’: Bears seedless berries without pollination.

Variegated varieties are available with silver-edged leaves (‘Argentea Marginata’ and ‘Ferox Argentea’), gold-edged leaves (‘Aurea Marginata’ and ‘Gold Coast’, a 6–8-ft.-tall male), and gold-centered leaves (‘Britebush’ and ‘Pinto’).

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