Grow holly from seed

Propagation Of Holly Shrubs With Holly Seeds Or Cuttings

Growing and propagating holly shrubs can be a rewarding experience provided you have the patience and fortitude required for success. In this article, we will look at how to grow holly from seed and cuttings.

Before You Start Propagating Holly

Growing holly is easy; however, in order to produce the bright red berries they’re commonly known for, you need at least one female holly plant and one male. Holly shrubs can be container grown indoors or outdoors as foundation or specimen plantings. While they are hardy and tolerant of a variety of soil, holly prefers moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. They also enjoy sun or partial shade.

Propagation of Holly Shrubs from Cuttings

Propagation of holly shrubs is an easy, albeit lengthy task. Most holly plants are propagated through cuttings, which are dipped in a rooting hormone and placed in potting soil and sand mixture. This is then kept moist while the plants are establishing roots.

The best time to do propagation of holly shrubs from cuttings differs depending on which type is taken. Softwood cuttings are usually taken in summer to late fall, but MOST cuttings for holly propagation are from hardwood cuttings, which are taken while plants or dormant or during cold weather.

Cuttings should be made about a quarter inch below a leaf node (for softwood cuttings) or above and below the bud unions (for hardwood cuttings) for the best results. While cuttings are thought to be the easiest way to propagate holly shrubs, propagating holly with seeds is also possible.

Propagation of Holly Shrubs from Seeds

Each holly berry each contains about four seeds. Growing holly from seed can be difficult as the seed germination is slow, requiring anywhere from sixteen months to three years. In addition, it can take another three years before the holly shrubs produce any flowers.

A specialized coating to survive harsh winters protects holly seeds; however, this pulp-like substance also makes propagation more difficult. Nonetheless, growing holly shrubs from seed propagation can be done, with patience.

Collect holly berries and break the skin off. Rinse the seeds in cold water and then plant them in soilless potting medium within a large flat. Cover the flats and place outdoors in a protected area over the winter. If all goes well, the holly seeds should germinate by spring. Otherwise, they’ll have to remain through another winter.

Now that you know how to grow holly from seeds or cuttings, you can start growing holly in your own garden.

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At this time of year (Winter) certain plants really shine, and Holly is one of them. With fantastic spiky evergreen foliage and stunning berries, Holly is a sure fire winter winner. It looks so festive and fabulous no wonder it is still so popular.

If you want to save some money, and have a little patience, you could grow holly from seed. You can collect berries from late autumn and right through the winter. Pick the berries by hand, removing all twigs and separating berries from the bunch. You can store your berries in a cool, dry place for several weeks.
Holly seeds have a tough outer seed coat that requires warm summer temperatures to break the dormancy, and so germinate in the second year after planting. However you can shorten this germination period by pre-treating the seed in a process called stratification.
Place your seeds in a clear plastic bag covered sandwiched between two layers of damp moss peat. Tie the top and store the bag in your fridge for 20 weeks, after which they will be ready for planting. Sow your holly seeds directly outside in a nursery bed until they are ready to be transplanted a year later.
Holly likes deep, loamy soil in full to part shade, but avoid areas that are prone to waterlogging during the winter. Plant the seeds 2 cm deep and 30 cm apart, then cover with soil. Clearly mark the area of planting to identify the seedlings when they emerge.
Water lightly frequently to keep the soil damp but do not waterlog the plants. Transplant your holly seedlings when they are 30 cm tall. Dig out a generous root ball as holly has a long tap root so dig down 30 – 45 cm to avoid damaging this when transplanting.
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Holly Tree seeds have a very deep dormancy within them, this requires a degree of patience to overcome.
First prepare a free draining substrate into which the seeds are to be mixed, this can be a 50/50 mixture of compost and sharp sand, or perlite, vermiculite. The chosen substrate needs to be moist (but not wet), if you can squeeze water out of it with your hand it is too wet and your seeds may drown and die.
Mix the seeds into the substrate, making sure that their is enough volume of material to keep the seeds separated.
Place the seed mixture into a clear plastic bag (freezer bags, especially zip-lock bags are very useful for this -provided a little gap is left in the seal for air exchange) If it is not a zip-lock type bag it needs to be loosely tied.
Write the date on the bag so that you know when the pre-treatment was started.
The seeds first require a period of warm pre-treatment and need to be kept in temperatures of 20 Celsius (68F) for a period of around 40 weeks – it is not critical if it lasts a week or two longer than this. During this time make sure that the pre-treatment medium does not dry out at any stage or it will be ineffective!
Next the seeds require a cold period to break the final part of the dormancy, this is easily achieved by placing the bag in the fridge at (4 Celsius or 39F) for at least 24 weeks (although it can take longer for signs of germination to show). It is quite possible for the seeds to germinate in the bag at these temperatures when they are ready to do so, if they do, just remove them from the bag and carefully plant them up. When the period of pre treatment has finished the seed should be ready to be planted.
Small quantities can be sown in pots or seed trays filled with a good quality compost and cover them with a thin layer of compost no more than 1 cm deep. For larger quantities it is easiest to sow the seeds in a well prepared seedbed outdoors once the warm and cold pre-treatments have finished and wait for the seedlings to appear.
It has also been found that fluctuating pre-treatment temperatures that mimic the natural cycle can give the best germination results and I have myself had excellent results by keeping the mixed seeds in a cold shed through the winter for the cold stage of their pretreatment and allowing the temperature to fluctuate naturally. Ungerminated seeds can have the whole warm and cold process repeated again to enable more seeds to germinate.
​Fresh seedlings can keep germinating for up to 5 years after the original sowing date.
Do not expose newly sown seeds to high temperatures (above 25 Celsius). Keep the seedlings well watered and weed free. Growth in the first year is usually between 5 and 10 cm depending on the time of germination and cultural techniques and developing seedlings are usually trouble free. Growth rate will increase during the second and subsequent years.
Allow them to grow for 2 or 3 years before planting them in a permanent position.

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