Gardens Illustrated
Ilex x aquipernyi 'Dragon Lady'
© Jason Ingram

Holly bushes to grow for berries and evergreen leaves

Published: December 25, 2021 at 11:33 am

Lustrous leaves and bright holly berries make holly bushes the perfect evergreen shrub in winter. Roy Lancaster picks the best hollies to grow in your garden. Photographs Jason Ingram

Ilex is a genus of around 400 species of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs with the common name holly. The holly season sees autumn and winter fruits and heights vary from 60cm to 25m. Most are easy to grow in sun or half-shade and average garden soil.

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IN BRIEF: HOLLY

Season: Evergreen foliage has year-round appeal, although hollies come into their own in winter when female plants bear fruit.

Size: Variable in size from compact shrubs with a height and spread of 90cm, to small trees over 6m high.

Conditions: They grow on most, reasonably moist but well-drained soils in sun or partial shade.

Here are my top 16 types of holly to grow for bright autumn and winter berries and evergreen foliage interest in the garden. You can also find top tips on growing holly bushes from Andy McIndoe below.

Ilex x aquipernyi Dragon Lady (=‘meschick’)

Ilex x aquipernyi 'Dragon Lady'
© Jason Ingram

A small tree or shrub of dense, narrow columnar habit with dark shoots, smaller, spiny leaves and red berries. H 6m.

Buy from Larch Cottage Nurseries

Ilex aquifolium ‘Harpune’

Ilex aquifolium 'Harpune'
© Jason Ingram

A distinctive female holly of German origin with a columnar habit and small, narrow, relatively smooth but spine-tipped leaves and small bright red berries. H 3m+

Buy from Welsh Holly

I. aquifolium ‘Pendula’

Ilex aquifolium 'Pendula'
© Jason Ingram

This female develops a broad, umbrella-shaped crown, with numerous branches drooping to the ground. Prickly, dark green leaves and rich purple shoots. H 3m+

Buy from Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery

I. aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’

Ilex aquifolium 'J.C van Tol'
© Jason Ingram

This female of Dutch origin has relatively smooth leaves and reliable crops of red berries, produced without the need of a pollinator. AGM*. H 5m+

Buy from Crocus

I. x koehneana ‘Chestnut Leaf’

Ilex x koehneana 'Chestnut Leaf'
© Jason Ingram

My favourite holly needs space to develop its broad-based, dense column, clothed with large, glossy, boldly veined and spine-toothed leaves. Free-fruiting. AGM. H 10m+

Buy from Chew Valley Trees

Ilex aquifolium ‘Alaska’

Ilex aquifolium 'Alaska'
© Jason Ingram

A vigorous, broadly columnar or narrowly conical tree with both prickly and smooth green leaves. It is also free-fruiting, even on young plants. AGM H 8m+

Buy from Jacksons Nurseries

Ilex aquifolium ‘Bacciflava’

Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava'
© Jason Ingram

Probably the best yellow-berried English holly, this is very effective when used with orange-berried I. x aquifolium ‘Amber’ and red-berried hollies in a mixed hedge. H 8m+

Buy from Gardening Express

Ilex aquifolium ‘Flavescens’

Ilex aquifolium 'Flavescens'
© Jason Ingram

The moonlight holly has plentiful red berries and leaves that are suffused with pale yellow and especially effective when young. Best in full sun. H 5m+

Buy from Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery

I. x altaclerensis ‘Ripley Gold’

Ilex x altaclarensis 'Ripley Gold'
© Jason Ingram

This cultivar has smooth gold-splashed leaves and abundant red berries. May produce green-leaved reversions which should be pruned away when still small. H 8m+

Buy from Harley Nursery

Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Belgica Aurea’

Ilex x altaclarensis 'Golden KIng'
© Jason Ingram

Strong growing female holly of conical habit with bold usually spineless, glossy-green leaves with a striking cream to creamy-yellow margin. AGM. H 8-10m+

I. aquifolium ‘Laurifolia Aurea’

Ilex aquifolium 'Laurifolia Aurea'
© Jason Ingram

A male holly that makes a reliable pollinating partner, ensuring that female hollies bear berries. Suited to gardens of intermediate size. H 8m+

Ilex aquifolium ‘Amber’

Ilex aquifolium 'Amber'
© Jason Ingram

The long-lasting orange berries are freely borne among glossy, dark green, almost spineless leaves. It makes a handsome large bush or tree. AGM. H 6-8m+

Buy from Junkers Nursery

Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Hodginsii’

Ilex x altaclerensis 'Hodginsii'
© Jason Ingram

Strong-growing male with purple shoots and large, glossy leaves. A reliable pollinating partner for fruit-bearing female hollies. Best suited to large spaces. AGM. H 14m.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Lining’

Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Lining'
© Jason Ingram

A female holly of recent introduction with an upright habit; the narrowly cream-margined, wavy leaves set on purple shoots are purple-flushed in winter. H 4m+

Buy from Bowhayes Trees

Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’

Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'
© Jason Ingram

This popular dense-growing shrub bears small leaves with cream-coloured margins. Sterile male flowers. Good for small gardens. AGM. H 2-3m.

Buy from Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery

Ilex aquifolium ‘Lichtenthalii’

Ilex aquifolium 'Lichtenthal'
© Jason Ingram

One for the collector - a slow-growing female but shy-fruiting holly forming a dense mound of crowded purple shoots clothed with curious long, narrow and twisted, glossy green leaves with pale midribs. H 1.5m-2m.

How to grow holly bushes

Shrub expert Andy McIndoe has growing advice for planting and caring for holly in your garden.

  • Evergreen hollies are easy to grow, succeeding on most soils.
  • They dislike waterlogged conditions and heavy clay, but need some soil moisture to thrive, so are rarely at their best on dry, chalk soils and seem to prefer neutral to acid conditions.
  • They are best planted as young, container-grown plants at any time of year, although ideally in autumn or early spring. Occasionally, Ilex aquifolium, if used for hedging, is planted as small, bare-root plants.
  • Hollies grow in sun or part-shade and are useful subjects to plant under the light shade of deciduous trees.
  • Hollies are mostly dioecious - in other words male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. Males outnumber females by as much as 18 to one. So, if you want a common holly with berries, planting a young specimen of the species is a lottery. Luckily, there are hermaphrodite, self-fertile cultivars that set a good crop of fruit without the need for a pollinator, such as I. aquifolium ‘J.C. van Tol’.
  • They can be grown as longterm shrubs for pots and containers, if planted in loam-based growing medium. Remember to feed annually with a slow-release fertiliser and water regularly.
  • Their hardy constitution means they are suitable for open, exposed situations and most can tolerate coastal air.
  • The evergreen types are versatile shrubs, which respond well to pruning and clipping, most making excellent subjects for hedging, topiary and training as standards. Hedges and topiary are usually clipped in late summer.
  • Old, untrained plants can become straggly with long trailing shoots with a few leaves near the tips. These can be successfully rejuvenated by cutting back hard in spring.
  • Variegated hollies occasionally produce plain-green shoots, known as reversion. This growth should be cut out as soon as possible. It is more vigorous than the variegated plant, so can soon take over.
  • Like all evergreens, hollies shed old leaves in summer. This is especially noticeable if the weather is hot and dry and leaf drop is sudden. Rarely cause for concern, this is merely part of the growing cycle.

Where to see and buy holly

• BlueBell Arboretum & Nursery

Annwell Lane, Smisby,

Ashby-dela-Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 2TA.

bluebellnursery.com

• Highfield Hollies

Highfield Farm, Hatch Lane, Liss,

Hampshire GU33 7NH.

abtek-it.co.uk

• Penwood Nurseries

The Drove, Penwood, Newbury,

Berkshire RG20 9EW.

penwoodnurseries.co.uk

• RHS Garden Rosemoor (Holds the National Collection of Ilex species and cultivars.)

Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH.

rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor

• The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, Romsey,

Hampshire SO51 0QA.

hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens

• Welsh Holly

Tenby Road, St Clears, Carmarthen,

Carmarthenshire SA33 2JP.

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welsh-holly.co.uk

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