The Many Holly Varieties and How to Use Them

Plant any one of these holly varieties for a versatile fence, hedge or tree.

| November/December 2011


Perched amid the red and green of a holly tree, a male Cardinal is right at home.

Steve and Dave Maslowski

Glossy green leaves, brilliant crimson berries, dense growth habit, and branches that are beautiful in floral arrangements mean that holly is welcome on many homesteads. Hollies are versatile plants that range in height from 1 foot to 70 feet and typically grow in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. You also can find hollies that thrive in Zones 3 to 11, as this is a rare plant genus that can be grown in all 50 states.

More than 400 holly varieties grow worldwide. Widely grown hollies include American hollies (Ilex opaca), English hollies (Ilex aquifolium), Yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria), and Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata). You can grow holly for privacy fences, clipped hedges, foliage along house foundations, and tall, handsome garden specimen trees. Once your trees are large enough, you could cut branches with berries and sell them at farmers’ markets or to florists during the holiday season.

Specimen holly

Specimen plants are usually tall and can stand alone as a focal plant. A popular specimen holly is the Highclere (Ilex x altaclerensis), which reaches 20 to 30 feet in a handsome pyramid shape, is cold tolerant and has large red berries. The cultivar Ilex aquifolium ‘Rubricaulis Aurea’ is an English holly with variegated leaves. One of the finest fruiting hollies that can be grown as a specimen tree is the American holly Ilex opaca ‘Old Heavy Berry,’ which grows 30 to 40 feet and has masses of brick-red berries.

Foundation holly

For foundation planting next to your house, blue holly hybrids (Ilex x meserveae) are easily pruned and are hardy in Zones 5 to 8. Blue Maid has red fruit and Golden Girl has yellow fruit. Blue Princess is one of the best berry producers with dark red berries that contrast with the lustrous bluish-green foliage. Use Blue Prince to pollinate, and these grow to 12 to 15 feet tall, so they are perfect to plant at the corners of your home or as a group of specimen trees.

Hedge holly

Hollies are ideal for creating privacy hedges, since many of them have dense foliage and form and are easily pruned.

Dragon Lady reaches 15 feet and is widely used as a hedge. The Japanese holly is an excellent choice for thick hedges that will reach 16 feet, with berries usually black and occasionally white or yellow, Zones 6 to 9, usually cold-hardy to Zone 7 with some cultivars hardy to Zone 6.

andy fenyoedy
12/27/2011 6:30:45 AM

Hi,thank you for your very informative and interesting article about hollies! The sources you have listed,however, are some of the worst nurseries in North America! Nature Hills and White Flower Farms have abysmal ratings with the Garden Watchdog (worth checking out!) and Tyty nursery had such a horrific rating that they found it necessay to sue Garden Watchdog from listing them! There are plenty of wonderful mailorder nurseries that even have more choices as far as hollies go.

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