Ilex aquifolium 'Harpune'

How to grow holly

Discover how best to grow and cultivate holly and holly bushes

  • Most hollies are easily cultivated in sun or half-shade in an average garden soil, alkaline to acidic, avoiding extremes of wet or dry.
  • Most evergreen hollies flower in spring, in the leaf axils of the previous year’s shoots.
  • The flowers are small, with four petals. Male flowers are produced in crowded clusters with prominent pollen-covered stamens; females have prominent green ovaries.
  • Male and female flowers are found on separate trees. A non-fruiting holly might be a male plant or a female plant with no pollinating male within bee-range.
  • Any male holly should be able to pollinate females of the English and Highclere hollies. Sometimes a male holly from a neighbouring garden will do the trick, but if space permits, it is worth planting a male cultivar as a companion nearby.
  • Reliable pollinators for large spaces include I. x altaclerensis ‘Hodginsii’; in middle-sized spaces try I. aquifolium ‘Laurifolia’ or the gold-margined I. aquifolium ‘Laurifolia Aurea’ (pictured below).
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Ilex aquifolium 'Laurifolia Aurea'
© Jason Ingram
Ilex x altaclarensis 'Ripley Gold'
© Jason Ingram

Hollies for hedges

Holly hedges are one of the joys of British gardens. Most of the hardy evergreen hollies available in the UK can be used as a hedge or screen but few can match the English holly for all-round quality and effect.

Most cultivars of I. aquifolium, particularly those of a dense, bushy nature, will soon knot together to form a hedge of rich texture. Plant young, at 60cm tall or so, and 60-75cm apart in the row, preferably in autumn. Once established, keep in shape by trimming annually in August with shears or a hedge-trimmer.

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

Where to see holly

Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QS

RHS Garden Rosemoor, National Collection holder. Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH

RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Inverleith Road, Edinburgh EH3 5LR

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB

The Savill and Valley Gardens, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Surrey TW20 0UU

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, Hampshire SO51 0QA

Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava'
© Jason Ingram

Where to buy holly

Farmyard Nurseries, Dol Llan Road, Llandysul, Carmarthenshire SA44 4RL

Highfield Hollies, Liss, Hampshire GU33 7NH

Larch Cottage Nursery, Melkinthorpe, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2DR

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Mallet Court Nursery, Curry Mallet, Somerset TA3 6SY