While most often thought of when decking the halls (Those shapely leaves! Those brilliant berries!), hollies shine in the garden all year long. Sometimes the star, sometimes playing a supporting role. However, always useful, hardy, fuss-free, wildlife magnets that add color, form, and interest to the landscape.
Ranging in size from a compact dwarf to a towering giant, there’s one for just about every garden. Looking for color in your winter garden? Keep a lookout for varieties with berries (get a male companion) or foliage that turns shades of burgundy or purple.
Here are some ideas for how to use hollies in the landscape. Plus, the best holly varieties to use to banish the winter garden blues and brighten your holiday season for years.
Do I need a male holly plant to get holly berries?
Yes, and you'll also need a female holly plant. Male hollies won't bear fruit and female hollies require at least one male variety nearby in order to set berries. Use the following ratio to insure bountiful berries: 1 male for every 10 female holly plants, planted within 30 feet of the females.
Holly Varieties for Hedges and Screens
Taller evergreen holly varieties are perfect plants for screens and hedges. This is due to their year-round foliage, ease of pruning, and generally quick growth rate. Tight growers such as Japanese hollies and Meserve hollies (also known as blue hollies) make good hedges. As do English hollies, whose spiny leaves provide a useful barrier. For a thick, dense hedge, prune regularly.
Profuse, bright-red berries are assured because both male and female plants are provided in the same container. Beautiful, dense, dark blue-green foliage on blue-purple stems. Shear for a dense hedge. Up to 10′ tall, 8′ wide. Zones 5-9.
A new twist on a favorite, this Monrovia exclusive has foliage that emerges deep red and matures to bright green. This dense, glossy foliage takes well to shearing, making it the perfect hedge plant. Up to 12' tall and 8' wide. Zones 7-9.
Best Hollies to Use as Foundation Shrubs
Here's the thing about hollies as foundation shrubs. While stately and elegant, they look best when combined with other plants when it comes to fronting the house. The dense, lushly green foliage looks even better year-round when paired with flowering deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas and viburnums. Also in winter with other evergreens such as conifers and rhododendrons. Use them as the “little black dress” and accessorize around them.
A cold-hardy, male holly with a dense, compact, and rounded growth habit that makes it a great, tidy foundation shrub. Evergreen foliage has a burgundy tint in winter. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 5-9.
A compact holly that’s a problem solver for small gardens needing a solid evergreen structural shrub. Perfect for pots, too. The green foliage takes on a purple-burgundy hue in winter. Up to 4′ tall, 3′ wide. Zones 5-9.
Best Hollies for Naturalizing in the Landscape
Ring the dinner bell for the birds! North American native winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are deciduous hollies (only 30 species compared to more than 750 evergreen species). After their leaves drop in late fall, they provide a dramatic display of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem. Give them plenty of room to do their thing. Cold tolerant and tolerant of wet soils, too. Most require a pollenizer such as Jim Dandy for the best berry set.
Profuse bright-red berries brighten the winter landscape and provide food for birds. Use at corners of fences, in woodland, wildlife, and native gardens. Up to 5′ tall and wide. Zones 4-8.
Both male and female plants are grown in the same container so berries are a sure thing. Use to soften corners of the house or in a large pot. Up to 8′ tall, 6′ wide. Zones 5-9.
Best Holly Show Stoppers
Where you might use a conifer as a thrilling, stand-alone specimen, consider planting a holly instead. Many varieties are so tall and impressive all year round. They make a real statement especially in winter when not much else is happening in the landscape. And, they look amazing under a blanket of fresh snow!
The narrow, columnar form and dark green foliage (without sharp points) stay neat year-round. Will sport small purple berries in fall with a male pollenizer nearby. Up to 8' tall and 3' wide. Zones 5-9.
Tall, elegant, and pyramidal, new foliage emerges bronze to burgundy maturing to emerald green. Sets small orange-red berries without a male pollenizer. Up to 14′ tall, 8′ wide. Zones 6-9.
Best Holly Varieties for Containers
Many hollies make effective container plants. Sheared into orbs, transformed into topiary, or limbed-up into standards. Alternatively, as in the case of naturally tall, narrow types, clipped into cones. Flying solo in a large pot or charmingly underplanted with seasonal color. They're just the thing to use in pairs at the front door or as the centerpiece of a garden bed. Also as flanking the edges of a patio, or wherever you need a bit of green sculpture.
This handsome male evergreen holly is tolerant of shearing. Thus making it an ideal topiary specimen or formal accent to entryways or gardens. Up to 12′ tall, 8′ wide. Zones 7-9.
A new disease-tolerant evergreen shrub that's a perfect replacement for boxwoods. Not only is it beautiful in a container, but also ideal for formal edging and small hedges. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 6-9.
A beautiful, low-growing, male holly with dense branching and foliage that turns deep purple in winter. A small, low-maintenance shrub perfect for the front of the house. Up to 2′ tall, 3′ wide. Zones 5-9.
Transform Holly Into Brilliant Holiday Decor
1. Variegated English Holly
2. Little Rascal® Holly (Male)
3. Red Beauty® Holly
4. Scallywag™ Holly
5. Berri-Magic® Kids’ Holly Combination
6. Blue Prince Holly
7. Castle Spire® Blue Holly
8. Gold Coast® English Holly
9. Emerald Colonnade® Holly
(Note: Holly leaves and berries can be mildly toxic to humans and pets.)
Tips for Growing Healthy Holly
- Plant in part to full sun; not a good choice for shade or as an understory shrub.
- Prefers well-drained, moist, and fertile soil.
- Winterberry and blue hollies don’t respond well to shearing – hand prune once a year to keep long branches under control. Other hollies require little pruning but tolerate severe pruning required for formal hedges and topiaries.
- If necessary to control size or remove older branches, prune in spring to optimize berry production.
- Feed in spring and early fall with Holly Tone or other fertilizer for acid-loving plants.
- Apply a layer of compost each spring to help retain moisture and control weeds. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk.