Holly bush root system

Holly bushes are notoriously difficult to remove. If you leave even a piece of a root in the ground, it may re-sprout and soon you’ll have new holly bushes and potentially even more growth in different places than you started with.

Short of digging the entire root system up and pulling up the stump, is there an easier way to get rid of a holly bush? Here are some of the common treatment recommendations that you may hear:

Holly stump treated with chemical stump killer

Chemical Stump Killer

This is from my first-hand-experience – chemical treatment of the stumps with stump killer is not very effective. We cut down the holly bushes to the ground, drilled holes in the main stump, and applied stump killer. As you can see, the holly is definitely re-sprouting from its root system as well as the old stump.

This late summer and early fall has been particularly dry, so you would think that the added stress of drought would work in favor of killing off the holly. But hollies are extremely hardy shrubs. So I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t a very effective method for removing holly bushes, at least not quickly and without repeated applications of the stump killer.

Home Remedies

There are several home remedies for the chemical treatment of holly stumps to kill of the roots. Much of this advice would also damage the soil around the stump, so if you’re planning on replanting the area, be very careful of what advice you take, and don’t do anything that sounds ‘too good to be true.’

Holly Bush Regrowth

For example, I’ve heard it suggested that pouring bleach and salt on the open stump and roots is a good method. This is not good advice if there is anything growing around the bushes that you wish to keep alive and/or if you plan to replant the area after the stumps are removed.

I’ve also heard of utilizing copper nails to kill off the shrub. The theory is that the copper will be drawn into the root system and eventually kill the remaining plant. It is doubtful that enough copper would be absorbed and transported into the plant and roots to kill it off. There is an excellent explanation of the chemistry here: http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2347,00.html

Perhaps in smaller trees, this would work, but it seems to me that hollies are just too persistent to succumb to small amounts of copper. If anyone has a different experience with this method and found it to be successful, please leave a comment on this post.

Manual Removal

The fastest and surest way to remove a holly tree or bush is to dig it up. This isn’t the easiest thing to do, but even with repeated chemical treatments, it may take a while to kill it all without manually removing the plant.

Here are some tips to make it (a little) easier:

  • Soak the ground around the stump to make it easier to remove from the soil. You may want to do this for a couple of days in advance. This helps if your weather has been particularly dry and the ground is rock hard.
  • Dig all around the stump (about two feet away from the stump, moving inwards), loosening the soil
  • Be sure to dig deep enough – the roots may be a foot or more into the ground. You’ll be able to tell how deep you need to dig by following the roots.
  • Use an axe to cut any particularly stubborn roots, to make it easier to get the stump out. Try to get the root pieces out of the dirt though, to make sure they don’t re-sprout.

Although this is going to require a significant amount of physical labor on my part, my previous experience with removing holly bushes has taught me that this is the fastest and surest method to get rid of unwanted shrubs. Now that the weather is cooling off, this will be the next gardening task on my list. I want to put some raised vegetable beds in this location, so the hollies have to be removed first so that they don’t sprout up through my tomatoes. Wish me luck!

Holly Bush Regrowth

Home > > Landsteward Reader Response > Problems with getting out holly bush stumps.

Problems with getting out holly bush stumps.

Hi Steve, We recently removed some (old) Holly bushes from the front of our house. My husband chain sawed them down. Well now I have about 3″ of stump remaining from the ground. I KEEP getting new HOLLY growth all over. I have to keep clipping to control. We put a poison into the stumps (after drilling holes) but still there. I want to till up the whole front (front of house) and replant from some of your plants or flowers. How can I make sure I kill the root, stump and any other mew growth? Thanks Ginnie Mercer


Hi Ginnie

I know there are several products out there that you can purchase from your local garden store. However, in order for you to do this quickly you may have to dig them out.. since they are a three inch caliper you will have to back away from the stump about two feet with a spade and start digging. You use a spade to cut the roots all the way around the trunk then dig down and lift up.

This is the fastest way to accomplish your task. It will take quite a while for poisons to kill and rot the stump enough to till the ground.

Kind regards


How To Transplant Holly Bushes

Moving holly bushes allows you relocate a healthy and mature holly bush to a more suitable part of the yard. But, if you transplant holly shrubs incorrectly, it can result in the holly losing its leaves or even dying. Keep reading to learn more about how to transplant holly bushes and when is the best time to transplant a holly.

When is the Best Time to Transplant a Holly?

The best time to transplant a holly bush is in early spring. Transplanting in early spring helps to keep the plant from losing its leaves due to the shock of being moved. This is because the extra rain in the spring and cool temperatures helps the plant retain moisture and this prevents it from shedding leaves as a way to retain moisture.

If absolutely necessary, you can transplant holly bushes in the early fall. The chances of the leaves dropping will be increased, but the holly bushes will most likely survive.

If you

do end up with a naked holly after transplanting a holly, don’t panic. The chances are very good that the holly shrub will regrow the leaves and be just fine.

How to Transplant Holly Bushes

Before you remove the holly bush from the ground, you will want to make sure that the new site for the holly shrub is prepared and ready. The less time the holly spends out of the ground, the more success it will have in not dying from the shock of being moved.

At the new site, dig a hole that will be larger than the root ball of the transplanted holly will be. Dig the hole deep enough so that the holly bush’s root ball can sit comfortably in the hole and that the holly will sit at the same level in the ground that it did at the previous location.

Once the hole is dug, dig up the holly bush. You want to make sure that you dig up as much of the root ball as possible. Dig at least 6 inches from the perimeter of where the leaves end and down about a foot or so. Holly shrubs have rather shallow root systems, so you do not have to dig deeply to reach the bottom of the root ball.

Once the holly shrub is dug out, quickly move the shrub to its new location. Place the holly in hole and spread the roots out in the hole. Then backfill the hole with soil. Step on the backfilled soil all the way around the holly bush to makes sure that there are no air pockets in the backfilled hole.

Water the transplanted holly thoroughly. Continue to water it daily for a week and after that water it deeply twice a week for one month.

Trimming Holly Bushes – How To Prune Holly Bushes

With lush, evergreen foliage and bright berries among most varieties, holly bushes make attractive additions in the landscape. These shrubs are commonly grown as foundation plantings or hedges. Some, like English holly, are even used as decorative displays throughout the Christmas season. While their year-round beauty is often seen as an asset among other landscape plantings, some types of holly bushes can become unwieldy if left unpruned. Therefore, trimming holly bushes is important for keeping their overall appearance in tip-top shape.

When to Prune Holly Bushes

A common question is when to prune a holly bush plant. Most people can prune a holly bush while the plant is dormant (in winter). In fact, December is actually a great time for holly bushes pruning. Trimming holly bushes helps them keep their shape and appearance looking neat.

However, not all varieties are pruned at the same time. It is important to know when to prune holly bush varieties. Otherwise, you could inadvertently cause


  • American holly bushes (I. opaca) requires light routine pruning any time but when pruned heavily in summer, there may be limited berries come fall and winter.
  • Chinese holly, on the other hand, usually doesn’t require regular pruning, as this could actually disfigure its compact shape.
  • Yaupon holly (I. vomitoria) is also best left unpruned; however, trimming holly bushes like these can be done when absolutely necessary to maintain appearance. Wait until dormancy for heavy pruning or simply trim as needed for shape.
  • Japanese hollies can also be pruned as needed in midsummer or late winter. If pruning for hedges, late spring is a good time for trimming holly bushes.

For most holly bushes, pruning can take place in winter without any ill effects. These include English, Inkberry and Blue hollies as well.

How to Prune Holly Bushes

Hollies are normally pruned to maintain shape or to remove unsightly growth. Some are shaped into hedges. If you don’t know how to prune holly bushes correctly, you can do more harm than good. For hedge pruning of holly bushes, pruning the lower branches shorter than upper ones is not recommended. Maintain an even shape instead.

Prune holly bushes to keep their natural growth in check. Always remove any dead or diseased branches. Then start from the inside and work outward. Cut branches just above new leaf buds or all the way back to main branch.

Don’t remove lower limbs of English holly. Instead, allow them to branch to the ground.

If holly bushes require some major rejuvenation, however, they can be cut to the ground; again, this should be done during winter dormancy.

Knowing when and how to prune holly bushes is important for their overall health. Trimming holly bushes helps them to maintain a neat, crisp appearance in the landscape.

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Tuesday – January 12, 2010

From: Elkton , MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Transplants, Trees
Title: Transplanting Hollies in winter
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I want to transplant, relocate holly trees in January. Is that ok, and what is the best holly for landscaping?


There is a saying in your part of the country that you can plant (or transplant) trees in any month that has the letter “r” in it’s name. So January should be fine … but aren’t you buried in snow right now?

Fall is actually the best time to plant trees. The warm soil and cool air give the plant a chance to regenerate roots while the transpirational demands on the leaves are not too great. Winter dormancy then gives the tree a chance to get ready for the next growing season. Early spring is the next best … again the tree has a chance to establish before meeting the demands of summer.

That being said, as long as the soil is workable, you can plant or transplant a tree. If the ground is not frozen and you take a handful of soil, and cannot squeeze water out of it, it is workable. So you will have to make the decision of whether it is ok in your garden, this January, or not.

You do not mention what type of holly “trees” you are hoping to move or how large they are. I suspect that since you refer to them as trees you are referring to Ilex opaca (American holly) which is evergreen and the plant most people think of when they use the term holly. I would advise against transplanting an evergreen at this time of year as, if the weather gets cold later in the winter when the sun is stronger, the roots will not be able to provide enough water to the leaves and they will suffer from winter burn. Also, the larger the tree, the greater the chance that it will not survive being transplanted.

There are other hollies that are native to your area which are great landscape plants. They are shrubs and very attractive for natural areas. Remember that all hollies are dioecious, which means that the male and female flower parts occur on two different plants, so if you want berries (on the female plants only) you must have a male plant (which will flower but not produce berries) within the flight distance of a pollinator.

We recommend:

Ilex glabra (inkberry)

Ilex verticillata (common winterberry) (which is deciduous and particularly attrtactive after its leaves have fallen)

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Transplanting holly tree – Knowledgebase Question

Early spring or late fall are both good times to transplant hollies. Hollies prefer well draining, slightly acidic soils. If the plants were already growing well in your landscape, you soil is probably fine. If the plants are in nursery containers, you may want to amend the planting area with compost, peat moss or aged-manure to help acidify it prior to planting. Don’t just dump the amendments in the planting hole – take the time to amend a large area by spreading organic matter and digging it in to a depth of 12-18″. This is where it will do the most good for the roots.
When planting, dig a hole just large enough to accommodate the roots. You want the plants to be at the same soil level as they were growing before. After planting, fill in around the roots with soil and gently tamp it down. Then water well to help settle the soil.
Be sure to water your hollies deeply once each week during the growing season to help the roots become well established.
Best wishes with your hollies!

Deck Your Halls: Growing Holly Trees and Bushes

“The mistletoe hung in the castle hall, / The holly branch shone on the old oak wall; / The baron’s retainers were blithe and gay / a-keeping a Christmas holiday.” (Thomas H. Bayley)

The familiar glossy, spiked leaves and brilliant red berries of the holly are closely linked with our traditional Christmas celebration. Yet the use of holly, mistletoe, and other holiday evergreens actually originated in pagan rituals that date back long before the advent of Christianity. The druids of ancient Britain held the holly tree sacred and decorated their homes with it. The early Teutons hung sprigs of holly in their dwellings in hopes that the friendlier fairies of the forest might find refuge there from the winter’s chill. In Roman times, holly was used in the celebration of the Saturnalia, or “turning of the sun” festival honoring Saturn (the god of seedtime), which was held on the winter solstice. At that time of year, when the days were shortest, it was customary to send gifts accompanied by holly boughs to friends as signs of goodwill. Many of these customs were adopted by the early Christian church, and so became associated with the Christmas celebration.
Today, many folks realize holly trees and bushes are too beautiful to enjoy only once a year, and some have discovered that growing holly year-round can be an easy and profitable means of brightening up the home landscape. Hollies are magnificent as single trees, versatile ornamentals, and excellent in hedges and screens or as ground cover in the dwarf forms. The hollies serve an important function in environmental plantings too, since they’re extremely tolerant of air pollutants, act as excellent sound and light barriers, and attract birds and animals that feed on the fruits and leaves. What’s more, many species of hollies can earn their keep! If you time the shrubs’ annual pruning to coincide with the Christmas season, even small plantings of holly can supply you with a handsome holiday cash crop (or, at least, free decorations) of trimmed greens and berried boughs.

Types of Hollies

The name holly generally brings to mind the glossy-leaved, red-berried English and American species. But there are many others, some of which look quite different from the more familiar types. In fact, although the English holly — a British import that has become acclimated to parts of the U.S., particularly the Pacific Northwest — still reigns supreme in the commercial Christmas holly market, more and more people are finding that the native North American hollies, both the evergreen and deciduous species, can provide equally attractive home decorations and landscape plantings. And because many of the indigenous species have the added bonus of increased winter hardiness, they can be grown over a much wider range.
About 40 of the more than 300 known species of hollies will grow in the United States (about half of those are native to this continent), and hundreds of cultivars of these species are available. The variability among the species is quite extensive: Some plants may reach as high as 70 feet, while others may grow no more than 12 inches tall. The leaves may be spiny or smooth-edged, and (as noted above) there are deciduous as well as evergreen varieties. The berries may be red, yellow, orange, white, or even black. What’s more, not all hollies even have berries. In most species the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, with only the females bearing fruit. These American-grown hollies can be classed into six major groups: English, American, Chinese, Japanese, miscellaneous evergreen, and deciduous.
English holly (Ilex aquifolium), with its glossy, dark green or variegated foliage and its brilliant red (or, less commonly, yellow) berries, is considered by many gardeners to be the most beautiful. Although the English hollies actually comprise only one species, so many cultivars have been developed that a number of the hybrids are now often referred to separately as Ilex altaclarensis. This import favors the climate of the Pacific Northwest (where the plant will often reach heights of 70 feet), but many of the cultivars adapt well to East Coast growing conditions, too.
Anyone who has wandered in the fields and woodlands of the southeastern U.S. is no doubt familiar with the glossy leaves and gleaming berries of the broad-shaped American holly, I. opaca. This species is native to the eastern and gulf coasts, but has become adapted to the Midwest and even parts of New England. The American holly is most at home in rich, swampy lowlands (where it may reach heights of 50 feet or more), yet it will also grow in the mountains. Although most of the cultivars have spiny, olive green leaves and red berries, some forms have smooth-edged foliage and yellow fruits.
The Chinese holly (I. cornuta) is native to the hilly regions bordering the Yangtze River. In the U.S., its cultivars range from dwarf forms to shrubs or compact trees up to 30 feet tall. The glossy, dark green foliage and large, showy, bright red berries of the Chinese holly make it an unusually attractive garden plant. Cultivars are available with spiny or smooth leaves; some have yellow or orange fruit.
The Japanese holly (I. crenata) is often referred to as the workhorse of landscape gardening, but because it has small, dark green leaves (like those of boxwood) and jet black berries, many folks don’t recognize it as a holly. The many cultivars offer a wide variety of applications, including ground covers and tall hedges. Because some Japanese hollies are quite winter-hardy, the plant is suited to northern and Midwestern gardens as well as those in the South and on the West Coast.
There are a number of other evergreen hollies that are native to this country and that deserve greater recognition as ornamentals. The black-fruited inkberry (I. glabra) is the most abundant and most cold-resistant of the native American hollies, and these traits make it especially attractive to northern gardeners. Another black-fruited species, the large gallberry (I. coriacea), is similar in appearance to the inkberry but prefers the warmer climate of the southern coastal plains. Also indigenous to the southern sand dunes is the yaupon holly (I. vomitoria), a highly regarded ornamental species that’s well suited to formal shapings and hedge use. A number of cultivars of the yaupon holly are available, including dwarf and tree specimens, and fruiting (with bright red-or yellow-berries) and nonfruiting varieties. The dark green leaves and red berries of the dahoon holly (I. cassine) are similar to those of the American holly. This native southern species grows farther south than any of the other endemic red-fruited evergreen hollies. Hybrids between I. cassine and I. opaca are known as the Foster hybrids and are popular as ornamentals.
The final category of hollies, the native deciduous species, is by far the least appreciated. In the northernmost areas of the country, where evergreen hollies are not hardy, the deciduous types display their bare branches laden with brilliant red jewels throughout the winter months. In the summer, their vibrant greenery serves well in both ornamental shrubs and hedges.
Probably the best known of the deciduous hollies is the winterberry (I. verticillata), which is also called the black alder. This widespread species is found in swamplands all along the eastern coast but will adapt to drier soils when cultivated as a landscape shrub. It generally grows no larger than a small tree and produces waxy red — or, rarely, yellow — fruits at Christmastime. Other deciduous hollies include the possumhaw (I. decidua), a widespread southern species that is a small shrub with dull green leaves and glossy orangered or, sometimes, yellow berries … and the mountain holly (I. ambigua var. montana), which is found in both the North and the South and is similar to the possumhaw but has bigger leaves and large bright red fruits.

Selection Specifics

When choosing hollies for your homestead collection, keep in mind the different climatic preferences of the various species. In general, evergreen hollies will do well in regions of moderate temperatures, while the deciduous species will tolerate harsher conditions. In areas where the hardiness of an evergreen species is doubtful, pay close attention to the microclimate in which the shrubs will be planted. Which side of a building the plants are located on, for example, might make a considerable difference in how they fare during the colder months. Choose a winter-shaded site, so that the hollies won’t be exposed to the morning sunshine, and make sure they’ll have protection from the wind. As an added measure, mulch the plants heavily in the late fall to protect the roots from alternate freezing and thawing.
Another consideration when choosing your holly trees, especially if you intend to plant a small grove with the idea of bringing in extra cash from the Christmas prunings, is marketability. If you decide to plant a few English hollies, for instance, select a mixture of green and variegated specimens. Check with local nurseries and your county agricultural extension agent to determine the most salable and adaptable cultivars for your area.
Finally, keep in mind that most holly species are dioecious, meaning that both male and female plants must be present to induce fruiting. The general rule is to plant one male, or staminate, tree within 100 feet of every ten pistillate trees to insure adequate pollination.


Planting Pointers

Next to selecting varieties that are appropriate to your climate and landscaping needs, the most important concern is supplying the plants with an adequate growing medium. All hollies develop best in well-drained (but not dry), fertile, light loamy soil that has a neutral or slightly acid pH. Be sure to allow sufficient room for the full-grown plant, too (unless you’re planning to trim the trees into a hedge), as many hollies require a good deal of space to develop. Tree-type species are best spaced about 25 feet apart, which equals roughly 70 trees per acre in an orchard situation.
The best time to plant hollies is during the dormant season, which in most areas is in the early spring, before any new growth appears. However, in regions that have mild winters, such as the South, transplanting can also be done successfully in the late fall.
It’s generally recommended that you buy your plants from a nursery, as transplanting hollies from the woods is often unsuccessful unless specific procedures are followed. Because hollies take a number of years before they fruit, it’s impossible to be certain of the sex of small wild trees. And, of course, if you’re seeking a specific cultivar, you’ll have to purchase it from a nursery.
However, with the proper care it is possible to successfully relocate a wild tree (assuming that there is no local law that forbids the transplanting of native hollies). If you’d like a berried specimen, select an already fruiting tree so that you’ll be certain of its sex. Then, because hollies don’t begin to bear until they’re quite developed, you’ll need to take considerable care in freeing the tree’s roots. Prepare such specimens a year or two in advance by digging a trench, some distance from the trunk and deep enough to cut through most of the roots, during the tree’s dormant period. Then pack the ditch with good soil. If the holly is large, it’s best to take two years to prepare for the move, trenching halfway around the tree one year and digging on the remaining side the next. A new root system will develop in the filled-in trench, giving the transplanted tree functioning roots close to its trunk. Just before digging the holly, prune the top back sufficiently to compensate for the inevitable loss of some of its root system during the move (removing one-fourth of the foliage is usually about right). After digging, wrap the trunk and branches in a two-inch-thick (or more) moisture-retaining covering such as burlap or sphagnum moss, and water the bundle thoroughly. When transplanting either wild or nursery-grown trees, it’s imperative that the trunk, roots, and branches remain moist throughout the move and until new growth appears after planting.
Prepare the ground for your new arrival by digging a hole twice the size of the root ball and refilling it to half its depth with good soil. If the natural earth is clayey, break up the soil at the bottom of the hole with a spading fork and mix in generous amounts of sand and organic matter. Then tamp the soil in the hole to provide a firm base for the tree.
Nursery-grown hollies are sold either balled-and-burlapped or in containers. Burlap-wrapped roots can be set “as is” in the hole, but the container should be cut away from “canned” specimens. Set the plant in the hole and pack good soil around it, leaving a slight surface basin to hold water. Stake the plant if needed, and if the transplant has not already been pruned, cut it back at this time. Then water the holly thoroughly.
After planting, mulch the base of the tree with a three- to four-inch-deep layer of leaf mold or similar material to help retain the moisture in the soil and to reduce weed growth (because hollies have such shallow roots, the soil around them should never be cultivated). Then keep an eye on the weather. If the rainfall is insufficient to keep the roots moist, drench the plant at weekly intervals, especially during its first few seasons of growth.

Caring for the Crop

Hollies demand little care once they’re established, but they do appreciate an annual dose of fertilizer, especially if they’re expected to supply cut greens every year. For trees with one-half-inch-diameter (or less) trunks, apply half a pound of fertilizer with an 8 to 10% nitrogen content or surface-dress the plants with a liberal amount of rotted manure in the early spring. Larger trees require one to two pounds of fertilizer (or the equivalent) for each inch of trunk diameter.
Most hollies are fairly resistant to pests and disease, although the genus as a whole is subject to quite a few ailments. The most aggravating holly pest is the leaf miner, which tunnels through the inner tissues of the foliage and disfigures the leaves. Other pests and diseases include scale insects, red spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, root nematodes, and various fungi and molds. If a disease or pest proves troublesome, contact your local agricultural extension agent for information about the appropriate controls for your area.
In most cases, however, poor performance is caused, not by pests or disease, but by choosing an unsuitable variety for your climate, improperly transplanting the tree, alternate freezing and thawing of the shallow roots, or inadequate moisture. Much of the damage incurred from disease and insects can be prevented by giving the holly plenty of growing room and pruning injured or crowded branches.
Other than fertilizing your plants and keeping an eye out for pests, care for your holly crop will be minimal. Although pruning is sometimes needed when the plants are young to help them develop a leader shoot, the larger specimens are generally left to develop their natural form on their own, and — at most — are shaped just once a year, generally during the holiday season. If you’ve planted your hollies with the intention of harvesting the greens, this is when you’ll reap the returns of your labor.
It usually takes five to eight years from the time the hollies are planted before they’ll begin to “pay out” in greenery. The first trimmings should be limited to five to ten pounds per tree, then increased each year until you’re harvesting from 10 to 20 pounds per tree after about the tenth season. After 15 years of growth, you can expect hollies to produce as much as 25 pounds of greenery per tree, depending, of course, on the variety you’ve planted. When pruning, always trim the plant so that its natural shape is maintained, and be sure to remove any injured limbs or low lying branches that may be blocking the ventilation around the tree.
If the quality of your trimmings is good, and you checked with prospective buyers to find out their preferred holly varieties before planting the trees, marketing your greens should require little more than boxing up a few sprigs and showing them to florists in your area. Five- and ten-pound allotments of commercially raised holly sell for over $11 and $20, respectively. Though your operation won’t be competitive with the technology used by the large out-of-state commercial suppliers (who treat the sprigs with hormones to retain their freshness and use refrigerated trucks for shipping), you should be able to develop a local market for your hollies.
So, during this Christmas season, as you decorate your home for the holidays and give thanks for the blessings of the past year, you might consider planting a holly tree next spring. Its boughs and berries will adorn your home’s interior and enhance the natural beauty of the winter landscape — and the extra trimmings could even provide you with a bit of pocket cash. But perhaps the holly’s greatest gift is that, long after the Christmas tree has been taken down and the packages unwrapped and all but forgotten, that growing holly tree will serve as a living reminder of our appreciation for the beauty and peace to be found on this earth.

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