When to Trim Holly Trees

Written by kim joyce
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When to Trim Holly Trees
Many hollies do well in very cold climates. (Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Holly trees are dioecious, meaning that plants are either male or female. Only female hollies will produce berries, but males need to be in the neighbourhood too, for pollination. Evergreen hollies -- there are some deciduous types too -- typically take 10 to 12 years before they'll produce berries. These basic facts hold true for most hollies, but otherwise there are many differences among the hundreds of holly varieties, which may be tiny or tall, round or columnar, variegated or dark green. Choose varieties that are cold hardy in your area and plant them in full sun and well-drained soil.

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Holly Pruning Overview

You can lightly shape holly and other evergreens anytime, but the ideal time for serious pruning is in early spring, just as trees emerge from dormancy and start their annual growth spurt. Have a clear idea about what you're trying to accomplish before making any pruning cuts. As with all evergreens, avoid shearing plants into artificial shapes. Light annual pruning is best, but heavier pruning every few years is also fine. Hollies can even tolerate severe pruning, but never cut them back to the ground.

Holly Pruning Overview

You can lightly shape holly and other evergreens anytime, but the ideal time for serious pruning is in early spring, just as trees emerge from dormancy and start their annual growth spurt. Have a clear idea about what you're trying to accomplish before making any pruning cuts. As with all evergreens, avoid shearing plants into artificial shapes. Light annual pruning is best, but heavier pruning every few years is also fine. Hollies can even tolerate severe pruning, but never cut them back to the ground.

Pruning Landscape Holly

First remove dead, damaged or diseased branches and stems. Make strategic cuts that thin out foliage yet respect the tree's natural form, heading back to just above a viable bud to prevent dieback. Encourage new growth toward the outside of the tree -- where there's more sun and air -- by pruning just above healthy outward-facing buds. Avoid snipping sprigs of holly before berries are fully mature, because they won't continue to ripen after harvest.

Pruning for Holly Harvests

According to Virginia Cooperative Extension, you can prune to control height and direct new growth while also encouraging abundant holly sprays. Cut back the central leader, the tree's top, to a height convenient for harvesting -- creating a tall bush, or a hedge if you have multiple plants -- which will force older wood to produce new growth. Remove any lateral branches growing into the tree's interior, to let in sun and air. Direct new growth outward, and also thin lateral branches and encourage new branching by removing up to one-third of sprays with berries. Leave intact lower limbs, to discourage weeds and also close mowing.

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