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David Beaulieu

American Holly Bush - Holly Bushes in American History

By November 22, 2003

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I'm hoping this introduction to American holly bushes will cause you to be on the lookout for them in your neighbors' landscape designs this winter. American holly bush makes for a nice lawn or garden specimen, which can be set off this time of year by Christmas lawn and garden decor. There's some history behind these plants: when the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they saw American holly bushes. They were immediately reminded of the English holly bushes they had known back home.

Related resource: Nellie Stevens Holly Bush


April 17, 2008 at 10:05 am
(1) renee vulgaris says:

help, my holly did so well all winter and this spring I have just notices the top 3/4′s of the branches to be dry/brownish/dead. What should I do? Cut it back? What did I do wrong? I love this plant and it is a hybrid, male/female cross (prince, princess).

April 18, 2008 at 11:47 am
(2) landscaping says:

It’s possible that road salt got it this winter, but it’s hard to say, especially without being there.

In my article on holly, I quote holly expert Andrew Bunting on the issue of pruning. Some of this may applicable to your case:

If you have an old holly plant on your landscape which you wish to rejuvenate, Bunting has some tips on pruning holly shrubs. Bunting advises that you “‘hat rack’ it in late winter by cutting back the branches by half to three-quarters of their length. The remaining plant will have few leaves and look like a hat rack, but in spring it will flush out with new foliage from all the pruning cuts. In two to three years, it will be fully covered in leaves. Hat racking will result in a plant much reduced in size, but still full of foliage.”

June 17, 2008 at 6:30 pm
(3) Chris Souza says:

I have two well developed Holly Bushes, one on either side of our front stairs. We are in a new home and they were planted about 5 years ago. This spring , one of the bushes developed what looked like little white mini worms all over the branches and leaves. The leaves are now falling off. We did spray with an insecticide( MONTEREY GARDEN INSECT SPRAY) the garden shop recommended. The white specks are now spreading to the other bush. This is not helping. Any suggestions

June 17, 2008 at 8:42 pm
(4) landscaping says:

Could be leaf miner larvae. If you don’t want to give insecticide another shot on your holly bushes, try parasitic wasps.

October 20, 2008 at 2:32 pm
(5) Heather says:

We bought almost 3 acres in CT. On our property we have several bushes that look very similiar to Holly. It is producing red berries now, like the holly would. Can you tell me what the specific name for them are (is there) and is it worth saving them while excavating. Thanks

October 20, 2008 at 4:59 pm
(6) landscaping says:


I’d guess they’re winterberry, a deciduous type of holly. If it were me, yeah, I’d save them.

November 12, 2008 at 6:19 pm
(7) Susan Keith says:

We have one holly bush, do we need more than one to have berries? When we bought it, it had berries, but they have fallen off.

November 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm
(8) landscaping says:

Yes, Susan, hollies are dioecious.

December 5, 2008 at 5:52 pm
(9) susan says:

We are getting ready to purchase some Needlepoint Hollies from a landscape center. They are yellowing in the pots. The salesperson told us that is because they are outgrowing the pots and they will be fine once in the ground.

He is selling 3 foot bushes to us for $3.00 each. Are we getting ripped off and buying dead hollies? Thanks.

December 5, 2008 at 6:29 pm
(10) landscaping says:


The Needlepoint hollies may not be “dead” (I wouldn’t try to judge the health of these hollies without being there), but there’s often a trade-off on markdowns like this. Think about it: if you were in business, would you mark down plants in prime condition? If there weren’t something wrong with the hollies, they probably wouldn’t be this cheap.

But here’s the other side of the trade-off: if you just want some cheap hollies and don’t care about having them live up to some preconceived image you have in mind of what “ideal hollies” should look like, this could be a bargain. Just be aware that if some of the branches die and you have to prune them off, it might be difficult to shape the hollies just the way you’d want to, ideally.

If you’re OK with that, then it really comes down to taking a gamble that the hollies will survive in reasonably good shape. Do you have a “green thumb” friend who might consent to accompanying you to this nursery to take a look at the hollies? If not, don’t shell out any more money than you’re willing to gamble with.

February 27, 2009 at 4:33 pm
(11) Peg says:

We have holly bushes (shrubs) at either side of our entrance to our house. They are at least 6 years old and they have never been trimmed. The ‘girls’ seem fine but the ‘boys’ have become very spread out and lanky. When is the best time to prune them and the best way?

February 27, 2009 at 6:14 pm
(12) landscaping says:


Please check out these resources on pruning holly:

How to Prune Holly

Rejuvenation-Pruning for Holly

March 15, 2009 at 11:17 am
(13) Peggy says:

Friend was STUCK by Holly leaf and it got infected VERY BAD. IS this Common?? She had to go to Dr. and he put her on Rx. Have never heard of this. Let me know please

March 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm
(14) landscaping says:

Nope, never heard of someone being seriously hurt by holly. I’ll have to add it to my yard safety tips.

March 19, 2009 at 2:09 pm
(15) Debbie says:

We have a beautiful holly bush. It grows well and is very healthy. Problem: bumble bees and yellow jackets and wasps of some sort. We want to keep the bush, but it’s right beside the house and next to walkway.The insects are not nesting in the siding, just in the bush. How do we kill them w/o killing the bush? Thanks!

March 19, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(16) landscaping says:

The bumble bees shouldn’t be that much of a problem. But you’re right to worry about yellow jacket stings. Try putting out a yellow jacket trap (available online and in hardware stores).

April 12, 2009 at 1:50 pm
(17) Jackie says:

I have Just lanted two holly bushes, Im hoping they will produce red berries in the winter. how Can I tell if Ive got a male and female plant, maybe they are both the same I dont know.

April 13, 2009 at 9:37 am
(18) landscaping says:


Follow this link; it explains how to tell the difference:

Male and Female Hollies

April 24, 2009 at 6:32 pm
(19) Allison says:

I have 2 holly bushes near the front entrance to my new home. As the weather is warming up, I notice bees, a few wasps,horseflys and other little fly constantly hovering and going in and out of the bush. One bush get more attention than the other! We have trimmed the bush and after a rain checked for any nests and found none. I want to be able to enjoy my front steps of my home when the wether is nice, is there any suggestions to get rid of the pests without hurting the the bushes.

April 24, 2009 at 8:08 pm
(20) landscaping says:


Your best bet would be to install traps to trap particular insects that will sting you. For instance, yellow jacket stings can truly be a problem, and many home and garden centers carry yellow jacket traps with which to lure the yellow jacket pests in (after which you dispose of them). Bees generally won’t sting you unless you bother them; bees are also quite beneficial and will be needed if you wish to pollinate a female holly bush with a male holly bush (the bees carry over the pollen from the one to the other).

May 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm
(21) Mary Jo says:

We have several holly bushes around our house. After this winter most of them have brown dead leaves/branches. Two of the bushes in particular have large dead branches. Could this be due to extensive severe cold last winter (we are in Michigan) or some other issue? They are not in a location where they would have salt or other ice melters contact them. Thank you for any advice.

May 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm
(22) landscaping says:

Mary Jo,

Given the information you’ve supplied and the time of year, yes, winter damage is a likely explanation. Not all holly bushes are equally hardy, and you do live in an area with harsh winters.

June 19, 2009 at 8:19 pm
(23) Tim Knecht says:

We have several holly bushes on our property (we bought in 2006, near Allentown, PA; Zone 6). Two of the bushes are thinning badly in their lower parts. Is there any fertilizer that will help rejuvenate them?

June 23, 2009 at 10:38 am
(24) Terry says:

Perhaps Peggy’s friend had been playing with a dog, handling fertilizer, or using an organic mulch and had dirty hands when she was stuck by the holly.

June 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm
(25) David Beaulieu says:


If you have an old holly plant on your landscape which you wish to rejuvenate, Andrew Bunting has some tips on pruning holly shrubs. Bunting advises that you “‘hat rack’ it in late winter by cutting back the branches by half to three-quarters of their length. The remaining plant will have few leaves and look like a hat rack, but in spring it will flush out with new foliage from all the pruning cuts. In two to three years, it will be fully covered in leaves. Hat racking will result in a plant much reduced in size, but still full of foliage.”

August 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm
(26) Ann says:

I just bought a blue princess and prince holly. I wanted to plant one in shade (it gets only indirect light all day due to tree cover. will these do ok there and will they get leggy?

August 2, 2009 at 4:12 pm
(27) landscaping says:


American holly bushes (and, to varying degrees, other hollies) are shade-tolerant, in the sense that they will survive in shade. Holly bushes are, after all, understory plants in the wild. However, your holly bushes won’t grow as vigorously as they would otherwise when deprived of adequate sunlight. Moreover, berry production will be hampered.

August 19, 2009 at 10:24 am
(28) renee p says:

i have a blue prince holly and know that i need a female to produce berries. do i have to have a blue princess holly or will a china girl or other female variety work? thanks for your help

August 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm
(29) landscaping says:


Please see the following discussion in the Landscaping Forum:

Planting Holly Bushes

October 2, 2009 at 12:48 pm
(30) darlene says:

how can you tell the difference between a male & female holly……if it is an older bush & doesn’t have landscaping tags on it?

October 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm
(31) landscaping says:


As mentioned in a comment above, click this link to a resource I have on distinguishing female holly bushes from male hollies.

January 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm
(32) Holly Tree says:

Thanks for the tip on telling male and female plants apart – I’d never noticed that before. Do you have any idea how old a holly bush has to be before it flowers? Is there any way of telling them apart when they are too young to flower (I’m not holding my breath on that second question!)

January 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm
(33) landscaping says:

Within 3 years, at most, you should be seeing flowers on average-size holly bushes bought from a garden center (of course, then there are the years it took the nursery to get them to that size — I can’t comment on that, never having raised holly bushes from “scratch”).

March 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm
(34) dmp says:

We live in CT. We planted 16 blue prince and blue princess holly bushes as a property line border. The landscaper planted them in late MAY. They are positioned on the flat part of our property at the bottom of a hill. They seemed to do well for a few weeks, then by fall, they all turned brown. There is a lot of run off from the hill when it rains and June 2009 was very wet. Is there any hope these may come back this spring? What can we do to help the process ?

March 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
(35) Mary says:

We have a holly bush on the corner of our house and I would like to “limb” it up to look more like a tree. Can this be done without damage to the plant?

March 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm
(36) landscaping says:


Yes, you can limb up a holly bush so as to turn it into more of a holly tree. I’d prune it now, before the weather gets warm.

March 9, 2010 at 6:25 pm
(37) landscaping says:


You are probably correct in attributing the problem with your holly plants to the runoff. While hope springs eternal — so I certainly would be willing to hold out hope that your hollies will re-emerge — I do not believe there is much you, yourself can do to increase the chances. They’ll either come back or they won’t.

Two other comments, though. First of all, if you don’t wish to wait, you can determine if the holly plants are alive or not by scraping some bark off the trunks with a sharp knife to see if there’s any green. Secondly, if you lose these holly plants, consider replanting with plants tolerant of wet spots.

June 27, 2011 at 4:49 am
(38) Apple Trees says:

I love the look of these beautiful American holly bushes, how much looking after do they need? Are they a lot of work? How big do they get?

June 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm
(39) landscaping says:

As the article linked to above mentions, American holly bushes are diverse (including in height). ‘Little Red’ grows only 5 feet tall, but others are taller.

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