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

• The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QS. Tel 01666 880220, www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

• RHS Garden Rosemoor. National Collection holder. Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH. Tel 01805 624067, www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor

• RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB. Tel 0845 260 9000, www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Wisley

• Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Inverleith Road, Edinburgh EH3 5LR. Tel 0131 552 7171, www.rbge.org.uk

• Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB. Tel 020 8332 5655, www.kew.org

• The Savill and Valley Gardens, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Surrey TW20 0UU. Tel 01753 860222, www.theroyallandscape.co.uk

• The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, Hampshire SO51 0QA. Tel 01794 369317, www3.hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens

Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava'
© Jason Ingram

Where to buy holly

• Farmyard Nurseries, Dol Llan Road, Llandysul, Carmarthenshire SA44 4RL. Tel 01559 363389, www.farmyardnurseries.co.uk

• Highfield Hollies, Liss, Hampshire GU33 7NH. Tel 01730 892372, www.highfieldhollies.com

• Larch Cottage Nursery, Melkinthorpe, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2DR. Tel 01931 712404, www.larchcottage.co.uk

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• Mallet Court Nursery, Curry Mallet, Somerset TA3 6SY. Tel 01823 481493, www.malletcourt.co.uk