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What is a Holly Bush?

By Kristin Wood
Updated May 16, 2024
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The holly bush, also known as Ilex, is a member of the Aquifoliaceae plant family. Holly bushes are an evergreen plant with thin, gray peeling bark; its thick, durable and pointy leaves usually last about three years. The tops of the leaves are dark green, while the bottoms are yellow-green. The plant begins flowering in May or June with flowers that are white with an occasional pink tint. The holly bush might look most familiar when its red berries appear in winter, which makes it a popular Christmas decoration.

Holly bush berries are round, hard and relatively small, usually measuring just under 1/2-inch (about 1 cm) in diameter. These berries are not intended to be consumed by people. Eating three or more berries can sometimes lead to digestion problems, such as vomiting or diarrhea. The red berries are not toxic to all living creatures, however; birds, raccoons and mice can safely include holly berries in their diets.

Holly bushes generally like a lot of sun, and they usually thrive when planted in acidic dirt. Although a holly bush might survive in a shady environment, it will often fade with the lack of direct sunshine. To ensure that red berries appear on the branches, both male and female bushes need to be planted near each other. Many gardeners plant holly bushes within a 30 to 40 foot (9 to 13 meters) radius.

Holly bushes are usually pruned in fall or winter seasons; to encourage further growth, branches can be trimmed when spring arrives. Some people enjoy cutting their holly bush into decorative shapes, which can typically be done in the fall or spring. The trimmings from a holly bush around the holiday season are often used for festive decorations. These pieces can usually remain green for a couple of weeks if placed in a sunny area and given water periodically.

Although usually low-maintenance, occasionally holly bushes might become diseased or infested with pests. Holly leaf miners or mites can cause noticeable damage to a holly bush, and gardeners might notice discoloration in the leaves. Bringing ladybugs into the yard could solve this problem, as they are the natural predators of many pests infesting holly bushes. Some gardeners will also use insecticidal soap on the plant to get rid of pests. Diseases, such as tar spot, might be easily avoided by not over-watering in the spring time. If part of a holly bush does become diseased, removing the infected branches might save the plant.

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Discussion Comments

By Animandel — On Nov 02, 2014

@Sporkasia - Climate also affects whether or not a bush produces berries and flowers. Whenever we get a late frost here, my bushes are nowhere near as pretty as they are when there is no late frost. In the early spring, I am always watching to see which bushes have started to produce buds and at the same time I am keeping an eye on the weather forecast to see whether we are in store for more cold weather.

A lack of rain can have the same effect as the cold. Make sure you keep your holly bushes watered well, or less they will stop making seeds as a means of surviving.

By Feryll — On Nov 01, 2014

@Sporkasia - Any bush might fail to produce flowers and seeds if you prune them the wrong way. By this I mean you should make sure you are pruning them at the right time of year. Don't prune them when they are actively trying to produce buds or seeds.

Also, don't prune your bushes too closely when you are looking for them to produce fruit and flowers. For many garden bushes, the new growth is what produces the berries, buds, flowers, or whatever.

By mobilian33 — On Oct 31, 2014

@Sporkasia - Holly bush plants won't make seeds unless you have a female and a male plant close enough to one another -- just like people. If you don't know much about plants then you might think this sounds like a lie, but it is not.

There are a number of plants that actually have males and females, and they need both to reproduce. On a holly bush, the berries are the seeds, so without a male and a female plant you will have no berries.

By Sporkasia — On Oct 31, 2014

Are all holly bushes supposed to have berries? I am pretty sure that what we have in our yard are holly bushes, but we have been in our new house almost a year and the plants have not produced any berries up to this point.

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