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Deck the Halls: 5 Best Holly Trees for a Garden (and Garlands)

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Deck the Halls: 5 Best Holly Trees for a Garden (and Garlands)

November 30, 2017

“Holly is traditionally a tree that keeps guard over a place, discouraging lightning or warding off magic, and happens to look good close to buildings. Grown as a standard and gently shaped, it is a striking feature all year round, though it begs to be strung with lights in winter,” writes Kendra.

With that kind of an endorsement (and more than 300 species of hollies to choose), it’s hard to resist the urge to plant a holly tree. But which holly?

Among the 20 or so species native to the US, there are dozens of cultivars. In temperate growing zones, you may also plant an English holly, a Chinese holly, or a Japanese holly tree. Some will tower over a landscape, growing to heights of 70 feet, while others are just a few inches tall. Shiny leaves, spiny leaves, smooth leaves, and variegated leaves—size and shape will vary by variety. And then there are holly berries: would you prefer red, white, orange, yellow, or black?

Read on for help; we’ve rounded up five of our favorite holly trees for your landscape:

Common Holly

Common holly (Ilex aquifolium) has many nicknames including English holly and Christmas holly. A closer look at the leaves on the common holly (as shown above). Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr.
Above: Common holly (Ilex aquifolium) has many nicknames including English holly and Christmas holly. A closer look at the leaves on the common holly (as shown above). Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr.

In a garden: Also known as English holly, Ilex aquifolium will grow to a height and diameter of 30 feet if given room to spread.

In a garland: Red berries, sharp leaves; this is the holly we typically think of when it’s time to deck the hall.

Where it grows best: In full sun or part shade, in growing zones 7-9.

Japanese Holly

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) by Harum.Koh via Flickr.
Above: Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) by Harum.Koh via Flickr.

In a garden: More of a shrub than a tree, Ilex crenata will grow thickly to a height and width of about 10 feet. Small white flowers appear in spring.

In a garland: Give boughs a good rinse before you bring them indoors (spider mites are a common pest).

Where it grows best: In growing zones 5 to 7, in sun or part shade.

Chinese Holly

Ilex cornuta &#8\2\16;Burford&#8\2\17;; photograph by SB Johnny via Flickr.
Above: Ilex cornuta ‘Burford’; photograph by SB Johnny via Flickr.

In a garden: A slow-growing evergreen shrub, Ilex cornuta will reach a height and width of about 15 feet at maturity.

In a garland: Glossy leaves and showy red berries.

Where it grows best: In moist, well-drained soil in growing zones 7 to 9.

Weeping Yaupon Holly

Weeping yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). Photograph by David J. Stang via Wikimedia.
Above: Weeping yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). Photograph by David J. Stang via Wikimedia.

In a garden: A 30-foot-high shrub at maturity, Ilex vomitoria creates an evergreen screen of dark, glossy leaves.

In a garland: Bright red berries and rounded leaves.

Where it grows best: Native to the American Southeast, it thrives in warm coastal regions.

Nellie R. Stevens Holly

Nellie R. Stevens holly trees create privacy on a perimeter. Photograph by redagainpatti via Flickr.
Above: Nellie R. Stevens holly trees create privacy on a perimeter. Photograph by redagainpatti via Flickr.

In a garden: Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ wants to be a pyramidal privacy hedge, and with its dense branches is very good at its job. Grows to a height of 20 or more feet.

In a garland: Orange-red berries and spiny leaves.

Where it grows best: USDA zones 6 to 9, partial to full sun.

N.B.: For more tips, see:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for holly tree with our Holly Tree: A Field Guide.

Interested in other types of trees? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various trees (specimen, deciduous, evergreen) with our Trees: A Field Guide.

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