How to Grow and Care for Chinese Holly

Chinese holly

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Chinese holly is a popular, versatile evergreen shrub that can grow as a lush large shrub or a small, trimmed tree. Planted in the cooler weather of fall or spring, fast-growing Chinese holly is the first holly to bloom in spring. Small, yellowish-green flowers, each with four tiny petals, attract the first bees of the season. 'D'Or' Chinese holly, also known as "yellowberry holly," specifically attracts the ground-nesting Colletes banksi bees.

Throughout the cooler months, most offer dark orange or red fruit, while fewer varieties create softer colored yellow berries. It is one of the few hollies that can produce berries without male pollination, the largest of all holly berries at 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Spiny leaves are dark olive glossy green and a bit prickly. The hairless leaves are leathery and waxy in texture. Each broadleaf is exceptionally shiny compared to others in the Aquifoliaceae family.

The plant is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.

Common Name Chinese holly
Botanical Name Ilex cornuta
Family Aquifoliaceae
Plant Type Shrub, tree
Mature Size 8-15 ft. tall, 8-15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 7-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets

Chinese Holly Care

Establish this plant in cool weather. Before planting, dig a hole two to three times as wide and only as deep as the rootball. Consider the mature size of the chosen cultivar, as Chinese holly can grow anywhere from eight to 15 feet wide. The wider the hole, the better.

With one hand, hold the plant straight and with the other hand, fill the hole with soil. Pat the soil around the roots to remove any air pockets. When the hole is halfway filled, soak the soil. Continue backfilling. Allow the top edge of the root ball to rest just above ground level. This will allow the roots to settle in the coming rain.

Once Chinese holly has been planted properly, it is exceptionally beautiful and also very adaptable. The plants crave only occasional deep watering if the weather is extremely dry but generally prove to be both resistant to drought and heat.

The plant is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.

Warning

Chinese holly grows so bushy and dense that it is actually considered invasive in Georgia.

frontal shot of a Chinese holly shrub

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Closeup of Chinese holly berries

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Chinese holly closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

Choose a sunny spot. Chinese holly thrives in full to partial sun but will tolerate shade. Plants grow fullest with more sun. At least five hours of direct sunlight will enable optimum berry production and foliage density.

Soil

Chinese holly prefers moist, well-drained soil. It grows in clay, sand, or loam if the soil has excellent drainage. If the clay soil is very dense, mix in organic topsoil or planting mix to enrich the roots. If the soil is very sandy and drains quickly, add peat moss and/or compost to retain moisture.

Water

Once you've planted your Chinese holly, give it a good soak. Top the new soil with mulch or pine straw, leaving room at the base.

Temperature and Humidity

Chinese holly establishes and grows quickly in the USDA zones 7 to 9. In colder climates, the plant might need covering during the winter to help ensure it stays vibrant. It seems to tolerate high temperatures just fine, as well as a wide range of humidity levels.

Fertilizer

Every late winter or early spring, feed plants a slow-release shrub and tree fertilizer. The iron and/or sulfur will promote constant greening. If leaves begin to yellow in mid to late summer, a second fertilization could be helpful. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Types of Chinese Holly

Some cultivars tend to grow as a shrub, while others tend to grow into a tree. Popular cultivars include:

  • 'Burford' makes a beautiful hedge up to 20 feet tall and wide, a rapid-growing, spineless cultivar that is a wise choice for a hedge.
  • 'Berries Jubilee' is a more well-behaved Chinese holly that grows in a tamed mound and offers many bright-red berries in fall and winter.
  • 'Carissa' is a compact cultivar that only grows 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Pruning

To maintain a neat privacy hedge, pruning is necessary. Without heavy trimming, these plants can take over an entire garden. Prune the tips of the plant back evenly during the early summer with a sharp pair of pruning shears. Remove dead or damaged branches from the base any time of year.

Propagating Chinese Holly

To propagate Chinese holly from hardwood cuttings, wait until the bush is dormant. Here's how to do it:

  1. Cut a cane away from the bush, making a sharp and even cut right above one of the small bumps, or "bud union" where the leaf meets the stem. On the cane you just cut, move up about six inches and cut again, this time above another bud union.
  2. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and place the cutting about one inch deep in coarse sand that has been worked into the appropriate spot in the garden.
  3. Water the cutting frequently and protect it from high winds. By the following spring, the cutting should have new growth and be ready to transplant elsewhere.

How to Grow Chinese Holly From Seed

While it is possible to grow Chinese holly from seed, germination of the seeds can take up to three years, even with the best possible conditions. Given the ease of propagating by cuttings and the lengthy time and care it takes to grow from seed, this method is not recommended.

Potting and Repotting Chinese Holly

Chinese holly appreciates moist, well-drained soil when planted in the ground or a pot. Take extra care to maintain a moist, not soggy, environment in containers. Drainage holes and a high-quality potting mix will provide an ideal beginning for this holly. Choose a rather large pot at least eight inches wider than the root ball. This will give the plant room to grow for the next two to three years before upgrading to a bigger container.

Overwintering

Hollies are quite hardy in their appropriate zones. To protect them from the freeze-thaw cycle during the winter, apply several inches of mulch over the roots. The mulch should extend out as wide as the branches do. Very young plants can be lightly wrapped at the base with burlap for further protection.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Holly can be troubled by leaf miners and spider mites. Treat the mites with manual removal; this might be accomplished with a strong blast of water. Leaf miners might need permethrin sprays to eradicate them. Powdery mildew, leaf spot, leaf rot, and tar spot are potential issues as well.

FAQ
  • How long can Chinese holly live?

    Mature plants may live to 80 years of age when given the proper growing conditions.

  • What animals does Chinese holly attract?

    Birds such as wild turkey, northern bobwhite, mourning dove, cedar waxwing, American goldfinch, and northern cardinal seek its dense foliage for nesting and berries for food.

  • What Chinese holly would make the best container plant?

    For a much shorter hedge or large container specimen for a deck or patio, consider dwarf types, including 'Rotunda' or 'Dwarf Burford', which only grow four feet tall and eight feet wide.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ilex cornuta. North Carolina State Extension.

  2. Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants: Holly. ASPCA.