Holly, Ilex

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Holly (Ilex), also called winter berries, are evergreen or deciduous deciduous shrubs and form the only genus of the family Holly Family (Aquifoliaceae). The genus Ilex includes about 400 species worldwide. Characteristic of holly are their leathery, dark green leaves, which are often serrated, and the most bright red drupes. Holly is distributed worldwide in all climates, there are over 200 different species in China alone. The European holly (Ilex aquifolium) is at home in Western Europe and has its natural habitat in coniferous and deciduous forests with rather acidic, humus rich soil. It is the most widespread in the winter-mild North German Plain, mainly in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.

Holly branches with fruit on it have a long tradition in England and America as a Christmas decoration. However, leaves and fruits are highly toxic, so care should be taken when handling the plants when children are in the garden. The heavy, greenish wood of the Ilex used to be used for furniture for inlays. Also woodcut printing blocks and walking or wands are made from it. Of course, Harry Potter's hollywood wand is also.

Appearance and growth

Holly can grow 2 to 25 meters high and several hundred years, depending on the species. They grow tree-shaped or as small broad-bushy shrubs depending on the species. On the often somewhat confused, long shoots, the leaves are arranged alternately - this is, for example, in the small-leaved garden forms of Japan Ilex (Ilex crenata) an important distinguishing feature to the very similar boxwood, the opposite leaves bears. The dark green, leathery leaves are petiolate and mostly elliptical in shape. The leaf margins can be smooth or sawn to thorny.
All Ilex species are dioecious, that is, there are plants that only male flowers and those that carry only female flowers. The small white flowers sit in the leaf axils of the previous year's shoots and open in May and June. The pea-sized yellow, red, brown or black stone fruits contain one to ten seeds depending on the species and often remain on the plants until spring.

Holly flowers

The male holly can be recognized by the fact that the flowers contain only stamens

Location and ground

Holly want a bright, but sunny to shady location with fresh to moist, nutrient-rich soil. They grow optimally on acidic, permeable humus soils. Clay-rich loamy soils, however, do not tolerate it.

Planting and care

All hollyhocks, including the deciduous species Ilex verticillata, should be planted in spring after the strongest frost has subsided. So the plants have a whole season to grow in and are well prepared for the first winter. The location should not be full sun, because then the evergreen species in strong sunlight and freezing temperatures often suffer from freezing. Individual leaves or entire branches freeze because the warming sun stimulates the evaporation of the leaves, but through the frozen channels in the wood no water can be replenished.
Very loamy soils should be massaged with sand and deciduous humus before planting, as hollyhocks do not like dense, cohesive soils. If you want to plant a hedge, you should lay out the individual plants along a continuous plant trench to the required distance. Depending on the type and size of the plants, two to six copies per meter are needed.

The generally quite undemanding holly need no special care. In spring, the plants are fertilized with a low-lime rhododendrond fertilizer or foliage compost, which is mixed with corn semolina. Sensitive varieties should be protected from frost damage in open, windy locations with winter fleece. In addition, the forest dwellers feel very well with a mulch layer of bark humus.

To cut

Holly are very cut friendly and rejuvenate from the old wood. The plants can be cut at any time if necessary, but best is the early spring or late June suitable. If you use holly as hedge or shrubbery, you should not cut the large-leaved species like Ilex aquifolium or Hybrid Ilex (Ilex x meservae) with a motorized hedge trimmer. It is better to use a mechanical hand-held hedge trimmer because the blades do not fray so severely during cutting and do not form dried-out interfaces over a large area.


Holly are ideal as mold trees and for hedges.At more exposed locations, the more robust hybrid ilex varieties (Ilex x meservae) are particularly recommended, as they do not suffer from leaf damage so quickly in frosty temperatures and winter sun. All Ilex varieties can also be used as an underplant for other, larger trees, as they can manage with relatively little light. Holly trees fit well into Asian-style gardens with many other evergreens. The compact varieties of the Japan Ilex are also suitable as solitary shrubs in pots.
Varieties such as 'Green Luster' are also often recommended as replacement plants for disease and pest-damaged boxwood edging. However, it should be noted that they are far from being so adaptable to different soil types. In any case, they require an evenly moist, very humus rich and acidic soil in order to grow satisfactorily. If you expect fruit decoration, you should always put both a female and a male Ilex. Holly are also good bird's eggs and breeding wood. The flowers are often visited by bees and bumblebees.

Globular mountain ilex

Globally cut mountain Ilex, here the cultivar 'Convexa', looks like a boxwood from a distance

Types and varieties

Of the genus Ilex there are three species or hybrids, which are horticultural in our greater importance. In the Common holly (Ilex aquifolium), it is an evergreen, mostly multi-stemmed large shrub or tree that can grow up to seven meters high. In addition to the aforementioned green-leaved wild species, there are numerous variegated varieties such as 'Argentea Marginata'. The variety 'Alaska' is particularly rich in fruit, remains quite compact and has heavily spined leaf margins.
Of the Japanese or Mountain Ilex (Ilex crenata) is a multifaceted stump that reaches about two to three meters in height as a game species. The cultivated varieties for the garden remain significantly more compact with a height of 60 to 150 centimeters. Its evergreen leaves are small and oval and not thorny. The shrub is very cut tolerant and can be formed well. Flowers and fruits are rather inconspicuous. Attractive varieties are for example 'Golden Gem', which is about 60 to 80 centimeters high and has yellow leaves. 'Convexa' typically features downward curved leaf margins.

Ilex aquifolium 'Madame Briot'

The variety 'Madame Briot' (Ilex aquifolium) bears bright red fruits, which form a nice contrast to the conspicuous white leaves

The Bushy Holly (Ilex meserveae) is actually not a separate species, but emerged from a cross of native holly with an Eastern Siberian holly-type. The upright conical Ilex hybrids can grow 1.5 to 3 meters high and are very hardy. The variety 'Hedge Fairy' is female and should always be planted together with the male variant 'Hedgehog Star', if you want fruit decorations.
The Deciduous holly (Ilex verticillata), also called red winter berry, is rather rare to find in our gardens. The deciduous shrub native of North America grows about 3 meters high and bears its striking red fruits long after the fall of leaves in autumn. The autumn color of the leaves is yellow to orange.


Larger varieties of local holly (Ilex aquifolium) can be good as a hobby gardener by sinkers proliferate, since the long, whip-like shoots in the lower crown area often rest on the floor anyway. In the nursery Ilex varieties are propagated almost without exception by cuttings. The rooting process, however, is quite tedious and needs a certain amount of soil heat. This can be achieved in the hobby garden therefore usually only with special breeding stations or mini-greenhouses in which a floor heating is integrated. The sowing of the game species is very tedious and less recommended. The seeds show a strong germ inhibition, which must be eliminated by a stratification.

Diseases and pests

Relatively frequently, holly infestation occurs with the Ilex miner fly, whose small larvae live in the leaf tissue, leaving bright to brownish minerings. They also pupate in the leaves. Attacked leaves should therefore be carefully removed in early spring and disposed of with household waste before the new generation of flies hatches. Even weevils occasionally eat the fleshy Ilex leaves. They are easily identifiable by their characteristic bury sensation along the leaf margins and can be well controlled with nematodes.

Video Board: Renewal Prune Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae).

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