Help us cut waaaay back our holly bushes

Old 03-08-09, 12:40 PM
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Help us cut waaaay back our holly bushes

We have 4 very large and overgrown holly bushes in the front of our house. Over the years we have been trimming them as they get to the bottom of our windows. THey are now almost to the top of the windows and look out of control and like a fortress around our house.. They are green on the outer portion but almost hollow of leaves on the interior. I would like to cut them way down to start over with fresh growth. My husband does not want to do that for fear of losing them. We live in the metro DC area of Maryland, it is early March - we are not quite out of the winter season yet. I am ready to cut.... Is this season okay for this? Any other hints? Thank you!

Last edited by Newt; 03-08-09 at 02:55 PM. Reason: fix url for 'smile'
Old 03-08-09, 12:51 PM
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I don't think you can kill a typical least down in the Tidewater area, you had to dig out all the roots to eliminate them.

You should probably selectively prune out limbs from the interior base and then trim back some of the taller ones from the end. Like most shrubs, you need to occasionally get some air and light into the interior or they get spindly and bare, with a lot of top and exterior growth.

Newt may be around later to give some references and further advise.
Old 03-08-09, 04:50 PM
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Hi Braggbunch,

You don't say if these are evergreen hollies, but I suspect they are. There are four species of holly that are popular in the US - Chinese (Ilex cornuta), Japanese (Ilex crenata), English (Ilex aquifolium) and American (Ilex opaca ). The first two respond better to severe pruning as they are faster growing and are the ones used popular during Christmas for decoration. Only the Japanese holly has black berries and has small round leaves similar to boxwood and tolerates shearing.

It would be helpful for you to know which you have so you'll know how they will respond. From this site which has a sketch of where to prune:

8. The HOLLIES. These plants include both tree and shrub forms. American holly may be pruned in December for Christmas greens. Chinese holly is also a source of attractive greens and may be trimmed in the early spring. When pruning American holly, always make the cut at a node, just above a lateral bud. Prune so as to maintain the natural shape of the tree. The shrubby Chinese and Japanese hollies can be more severely pruned and may require some additional light pruning during the growing season.
One form of Chinese holly that has been very popular for many years is Burford holly. Unlike most evergreen hollies, it only has one spine on the tip of it's leaf and it's leaves are smaller then the Amercian or English. Some interesting info here. I'm showing selected quotes.
Burford Holly - Plant of the Week

Burford differs in that it has only one spine at the end of the 2- to 3-inch long leaf instead of the seven or nine inches common for the species. Its leaves are glossy green all summer long but heavy fruit set will often rob some of the foliage of its lustrous appearance in the winter.
From this site which has some great info:
Pruning Evergreen Shrubs

Any holly or boxwood too large for its location may be pruned until nothing but bare branches remains. New leaf buds, though hard to see, are numerous enough to give abundant fresh growth in summer. It will take several years for either of these plants to fully regain their beauty, but such heavy pruning is possible, if necessary. Another alternative for oversized Burford holly and boxwood is to prune them into a tree shape by removing their lower branches. The bare trunks often have interesting shapes and are much less bulky than the bush form.
So, any idea of which you might have? Pics would be great.

How to prune shrubs.
G6870 Pruning Ornamental Shrubs, Explore MU Extension


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