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Ilex cornuta

Chinese Holly
Evergreen, Shrubs


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 cornuta

From China and Korea. Evergreen shrub or tree that needs a long warm season to set fruit. In desert climates, give protection from hot sun; grow in eastern or northern exposure. Dense or open growth to 10 ft. or taller, often wider in maturity. Leaves are typically glossy, leathery, nearly rectangular, with spines at the four corners and at tip. Exceptionally large, long-lasting bright red berries. Selections show great variation in fruit set, leaf form, spininess. In the following list, those setting fruit do so without a male variety.

‘Burfordii’ (Burford Holly): Grows to 15 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide. Widely planted in low-elevation California. Leaves are nearly spineless, cupped downward. Useful as an espalier.

‘Carissa’: Dwarf, dense grower to 3–4 ft. high and 4–6 ft. wide, with small leaves. Use for small containers or as a low hedge. Female, but no berries.

‘Dwarf Burford’ (‘Burfordii Nana’): Resembles ‘Burfordii’ but is much smaller—to just 6 ft. tall and wide. Branches are densely set with small, light green, spineless leaves.

‘Needlepoint’: Grows to 10 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide, with narrow, twisted leaves and bright red berries.

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