How to Prune a Holly Tree

A branch of holly, with sharp leaves and red berries, extends away from the body of the tree.
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-100
What You'll Need
Safety goggles
Pruning shears

The holly tree is a favorite of many home landscapes. It doesn't require much maintenance once mature which adds to its appeal. However, regular pruning is essential to encourage new growth and help the tree retain its shape. Pruning also encourages production of new berries which is important for young hollies. These trees tend to be dormant in winter, which makes December a good time for pruning. You can also prune lightly in the early summer, as it will allow time for new shoots to develop. However, if you prune too heavily or after flowering, this will hinder production of new berries, so follow these steps for the proper procedure.

Tip: Always start pruning by removing dead or damaged wood. Remember that less is more when it comes to pruning; you can always go back in and remove more growth if needed.

Step 1 - Dress for Safety

When trimming hollies, it is a good idea to put on gloves and safety goggles. This will protect you from injury by the prickly holly leaves.

Step 2 - Inspect the Tree for Damage

Carefully inspect the tree for any indications of insect infestation or diseased parts. Also take note of areas of the tree that are damaged, paying particular attention to the trunk. Wounds on the tree likely represent some disease. If the tree is considerably infested or diseased, it is a good idea to cut it down and extract the entire tree. Mild areas of infestation can be treated with an appropriate pesticide.

Step 3 - Prune Lowermost Branches

It is best to begin pruning at the bottom and work your way up. Start with the lowermost branches at ground level and cut them off as far back as the trunk. Some branches may even emerge from just beneath the ground level.

Step 4 - Prune Downward and Upward Growing Branches

Trim off branches that are growing downwards as well as upwards, and trim off any that appear awkward in the angle they take or seem to be an obstruction to other branches. Use a ladder to reach higher parts if the tree is tall.

Step 5 - Prune Damaged Branches

Cut off all branches that are dead, bent, or damaged, and get rid of branches that appear weak. These can not only hinder growth, but they can be a falling hazard if your area is prone to high winds or storms.

Step 6 - Work the Middle Section

Step up on a ladder to put the middle section of the tree at eye-level. Usually, the most dense growth occurs here. Trim particularly dense areas and any branches that cross or intersect others. This encourages better air circulation and reception of sunlight, which is vital for healthy growth. Avoid cutting branches at the bottom shorter than those at the top. When lower branches fail to get adequate sunlight it can result in eventual death.