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Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Zones 2B, 3-41
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Full, Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Ilex glabra

Inkberry
Aquifoliaceae
Evergreen, Shrubs

ILEX

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 glabra

Evergreen shrub native to eastern North America. Grows to 10 ft. tall and wide, with thick, spineless dark green leaves and black berries. More widely available are the dwarf forms ‘Compacta’ (female) and ‘Nordic’ (male), which grow to 4 ft. tall and wide but can be sheared to make a 2-ft. hedge. ‘Shamrock’ grows to 5 ft. tall and wide, with fine-textured, compact growth and black berries.

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