Holly or Ilex Meserveae

Ilex, also known as Holly, have glossy dark-green foliage and produces red berries. The plant makes an excellent garden feature and deters intruders from gaining entry into your garden due to its prickly leaves. All species of Ilex achieve a growth rate of 10-20cm a year, which is fairly low but these species make up for this with colorful foliage and seasonal interest.


Being a native hedging plant, Holly is great for providing food and shelter for wildlife. Many birds, such as blackbirds, robins, waxwings, chaffinches feed on the red fruits and all the species of Ilex plants provide an excellent source of pollen and nectar for bees. Ilex hedges are more beneficial to wildlife if left to take a natural look as the bush provide a protective habitat.

An important point to keep in mind is that female holly plants require pollination from male holly plants to produce berries.

Growing a ilex hedge

The distinctive appearance of ilex can be identified easily by their prickly, glossy-green leaves. The plant’s seasonal interest begins in spring when small flowers are produced and remain throughout summer. The red berries appear in autumn and remain on the branches throughout winter.

Why you should grow a holly hedge

Ilex has many great features that you would want to see in your hedge. Here are a few benefits of growing a holly hedge:

  • The plant has dense, evergreen foliage that makes a lasting canvas for other garden plants and provides screening
  • As a native evergreen, Ilex can have a positive impact on the surrounding environment, thus adding to the local biodiversity
  • It is also known to be an extremely long lasting plant. Provided the plant is grown under ideal conditions, it can live for more than 40 years
  • The plant is versatile when it comes to shaping. It can be used to make neat displays or manipulated to unusual curves and shapes
  • Although the plant grows slowly, it makes beautiful hedges
  • It fills out on the ground; therefore, it does not require facer plants in front
  • They have been used as a symbol of Christmas for a long time and are common reference in forklore, bring with them interpretations of luck 
  • It is also a low maintenance plant, and you can maintain your hedge in top shape by pruning only once a year. If you are planting it as a stand-a-lone, no pruning is needed.

Where to plant

Holly appreciates full sun to partial shade. The plant is happy in moist, well-drained soils, but dislikes waterlogged soil. This plant is picky when it comes to soil conditions and needs to be planted in soils that rich-acidic for optimal growth.

However, you should avoid planting ilex in alkaline soils to prevent chlorosis. But the advantage is that it somewhat tolerant to urban pollution. In exposed locations or cold microclimates, it is important to apply a thick layer of mulch to reduce the rate of water evaporation from the soil.

How to plant ilex

Water the plant deeply in its clod before planting

  1. Planting ilex is pretty simple and straightforward. Follow these simple steps:
  2. Choose a suitable planting location for your ilex
  3. Amend the soil around the area you want to plant the hollies with rich compost. Till the amendment into the soil to a depth of 20cm. The compost will improve drainage while providing nutrients that the plants need to thrive
  4. Dig a trench twice the width and same height as the clod and ensure that the sides of the trench are straight
  5. Place the plants in the trench and stagger them 33cm apart for small varieties such as Japanese hollies, and 50cm apart for large varieties
  6. Fill back the soil you removed from the trench and compact it slightly with your hands or feet so that it’s tight but still airy
  7. Thoroughly water the plants after planting and water for twenty minutes three times a week
  8. Apply a 5-6cm layer of mulch around the ilex hedge. The mulch will play a significant role in regulating soil moisture and temperature


You can plant holly plants anytime of the year. Trees planted in autumn and winter are a lot easier to maintain when compared to those planted in spring and summer as they will have plenty of time to establish and become hardy before colder months arrive

Hollies should be planted at the same depth as it is in its clod. Planting too deep may cause root rot

Drought stress is one of the main causes of death in hedging plants, so you will want to make sure that you water your hollies deeply until they are fully established

Ensure that the soil is loose before planting to allow the root system to penetrate


Hollies can be grown to a height of 1-4m. To create a thick, compact hedge, it is important that you maintain a spacing distance of two to three plants per meter to avoid overcrowding. It is also important that you plant one male holly for three female hollies to pollinate the female hollies

Care & Advice

  • Watering

Adequate watering is necessary for hollies in their early growing phases. But once they have established, they can be cut back. You don’t need to water too much in winter, but supplemental watering is important during dry spells and as fall approaches before the ground freezes. As we mentioned, hollies dislike waterlogged soils; therefore, make sure that you choose a planting site that does not retain water

  • Mulching

Make sure that you apply a layer of mulch during winter. Spread about 20cm of organic mulch onto the soil around the plants. You can use dry leaves or small wood chips for mulching. This will ensure that to roots are protected. In addition, if you mulch, you are less likely to struggle with weeds. It also helps to conserve moisture in the soil so that not much water can be lost to the atmosphere through evaporation.

As spring approaches, gradually remove the mulch as the weather gets warmer. Apply the mulch again in summer to conserve moisture. Make sure that youkeep the mulch a few centimeters away from the trunk of the plants to prevent rotting.

  • Fertilizing

It is important to feed hollies frequently during the early growing stages. This will encourage healthy growth and support development of roots. Feed the hollies with a liquid fertilizer meant for large-leaved acid-loving plants after every two weeks. However, you should note that holly plants react adversely to too much fertilizer; therefore, you will not want to overdo it.

Once the hollies have established, you only need to feed once a year with a slow-release granular fertilizer. Simply sprinkle the fertilizer onto the soil surrounding the plant’s base. You can also use compost in place of commercial fertilizer.

  • Pruning

It is recommended that you prune hollies when new growth starts hardening. Don’t prune the lower branches lower than the upper ones because this may result to the death of the plant. Maintain an even shape and remove damaged or diseased branches. Avoid pruning early in fall as new growth may not get the chance to establish before the manifestation of frost conditions.

You don’t necessarily have to prune hollies, but they can take hard pruning required for a formal hedge. Severe pruning is necessary in winter after the formation of berry. Collect all plant parts and leaves after pruning and damp them in a compost pit as they can cause pain when stepped on with bare feet.

Potential issues

Leafspot-This is one of the most common problems affecting Hollies. This condition is characterized by yellow spots that turn brown. Treat this condition by applying a fungicide in spring.

Anthracnose-This condition is characterized by brown leaf botches. In this case, you only need to apply a fungicide in late spring. Anthracnose can be prevented by maintaining the recommended soil fertility, proper plant care and timely surface watering

Black root rot-This disease causes stunted growth because the roots are rotten and don’t function anymore. However, plants with roots that are extensively damaged should be removed and fungicide applied to the soil.


  • Maintains its evergreen color throughout the year
  • The evergreen foliage provides year round interest
  • The prickly leaves keep intruders away
  • Produces red berries which are fed on by hungry birds
  • Used for Christmas decorations
  • They grow in both fully shaded and sunny positions
  • They require little maintenance
  • The dense foliage is also used a nesting site for birds
  • Acts as a windbreak


Hollies are one of the best hedging plants you can grow. First, their leaves are prickly, which means that they will prevent intruders from gaining entry into your garden. Most important, they form a compact hedge which protects your garden from noise pollution and acts as windbreak.

In addition, hollies require little maintenance as they only need to be trimmed once a year. And if you are looking for a hedge that has wildlife interest, then you’ve got it. A holly hedge acts as a nesting site for birds and their red berries are fed on by hungry birds.