Holly Shrub Pruning*


Hi, I have a very large Holly which has been trimmed of all it’s dead branches. It now has leaves only on the top and all the upright stalks/branches are completely bare. It resembles more of a tree now and less like a shrub. Will the Holly eventually grow new leaves on the bare branches in order to fill in on the lower 2/3’s of the shrub? Location is North York. Thank you.



Getting rid of the all dead wood is a first step in improving the form of your holly. All hollies (Ilex) like full sun and clearing out the dead wood followed by some judicious hand pruning (that is, selective pruning as opposed to an overall shearing) will ensure sun reaches all areas of the plant and avoids it becoming ‘leggy’ as has happened with yours.

Pruning forces new growth. However, hollies are a large genus of plants with many species. Holly species fall into different categories, each having their own form and pruning technique. So it’s important to know what species/type of holly you are dealing with before you start to prune. Hollies that are hardy to our Toronto climate are our native Winterberry, (Ilex verticillata) and cultivars, Blue holly, (Ilex x messervae) and cultivars, and Inkberry, (Ilex glabra) and its cultivars.  Each of these species fall into a different holly type.

I’m including below a link to a good article from Fine Gardening magazine which will help you to determine your holly type and provide instructions and when and how to prune your holly.