While native to China, the Chinese Holly is widely beloved by birds and the people of Southeast America. This evergreen shrub is versatile; it can grow as a lush large shrub or a small trimmed tree. 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.
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. Leaves are dark olive glossy green and a bit prickly. The hairless leaves are considered leathery and waxy in texture. Each broadleaf is exceptionally shiny compared to others in the Aquifoliaceae family.
|Botanical Name||Ilex cornuta|
|Common Name||Chinese Holly|
|Plant Type||Perennial evergreen shrub or tree|
|Mature Size||25 feet tall and 20 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Moist to well-drained|
|Soil pH||5.0 to 6.0|
|Bloom Time||Spring to early summer|
|Flower Color||Cream, tan, white|
|Hardiness Zones||7, 8, 9|
How to Grow Chinese Holly
This evergreen is hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9. Some cultivars tend to grow as a shrub, while others tend to grow into a tree. "Burford" makes a beautiful hedge up to 20 feet tall and wide. The rapid-growing, spineless "Burfordii" is another wise choice for a hedge. For a more well-behaved Chinese Holly, consider "Berries Jubilee" which grows in a tamed mound and offers many bright-red berries in fall and winter.
Choose a sunny spot. Chinese Holly thrives in full to partial sun but will tolerate shade. Plants grow fullest with more sun. At least 5 hours of direct sunlight will enable optimum berry production and foliage density.
Establish in cool weather. Before planting, dig a hole two to three times as wide (and only as deep) of the rootball. Consider the mature size of the chosen cultivar, as Chinese Hollies can grow anywhere from four to 20 feet wide. The wider the hole, the better.
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 top soil 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. 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.
After planting, water deeply. Add one to two inches of mulch or pine straw atop the fresh soil. Leave room around the base of the plant as putting mulch too close could cause the bark rot. 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.
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.
According to the ASPCA, holly is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Leaves and berries have low toxicity, but vomiting, diarrhea and depression are possible side effects. Note: Chinese Holly berries are poisonous to humans and should be saved for the birds.
Chinese Holly grows so bushy and dense that it is actually considered invasive in parts of Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. To maintain a neat privacy hedge, pruning is necessary. Without heavy trimming, these plants can take over an entire garden.
They can grow anywhere from four to 25 feet tall, averaging about nine feet tall, and spread from four to 20 feet. "Needlepoint" (pictured above) only reaches 10 to 15 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. This well-variety can even be trained as a small tree, ideal as a screen or border. For a shorter hedge, consider dwarf types Rotunda or Dwarf Burford which only grow four feet tall and eight feet wide.
Growing in Containers
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 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.
Mature plants may live to 80 years of age, and they earn a life well-lived. While welcoming the bees in spring and summer, the birds in autumn, and guests to a holiday dinner table, the Chinese Holly is an evergreen for all seasons.