How to Grow Hetz's Japanese Holly

These hardy shrubs look like boxwood but aren't

Japanese holly (Hetzii) with concave leaves and black berries.
David Beaulieu

Hetz's Japanese holly is an evergreen shrub, but it is a broadleaved, rather than a needled, evergreen. Its glossy, delicate leaves can make it a great choice if you are in the market for a bush with dense foliage that stays green year-round. Moderate-growing Hetz's Japanese holly is commonly confused with boxwood. These two popular shrubs are indeed similar, but they have subtle differences in appearance as well as pollination habits.

Not grown for its blossoms (which are small and white), it does nonetheless bloom in May. Flowers are succeeded by black berries, which technically are drupes.

Holly shrubs are dioecious, so if you have your heart set on berries, you will need to grow a male that will pollinate this female shrub. However, since Ilex crenata Hetzii is specifically a female cultivar, you can't just go out and get a male Hetz to complement it. You must use a male of a different type of Ilex crenata, including cultivars such as 'Bee Hive', 'Hoogendorn', and 'Rotundifolia'.

Although pollen can travel some distance, experts recommend planting one of these males close by to improve your chances of pollination.

Botanical Name Ilex crenata 'Hetzii' 
Common Name Hetz holly, Hetz's Japanese holly
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 3-8 ft. tall, 4-6 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Loamy, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic, 6.0
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Green, white
Hardiness Zones 5b-7a (USDA)
Native Area Korea, China, Japan, eastern Russia
Toxicity Toxic to humans and animals

Hetz's Japanese Holly Care

The taxonomy of Hetz's Japanese holly is Ilex crenata Hetzii. It is a female cultivar. The cultivar name of Hetzii is transformed into "Hetz" or "Hetz's" for use in the common plant name.

Landscape designers like the fact that the relatively small leaves of Ilex crenata shrubs give them a fine texture, allowing for contrast with the coarser textures of many other shrubs. These little green leaves are convex (when viewed from above) and can be quite shiny. The branches are tightly packed together.

Japanese holly requires relatively little care and is a good plant for low-maintenance landscaping. As with other evergreens, this shrub will add visual interest to the winter landscape, especially if the black berries are present. Japanese holly is often used for foundation plantings and for hedges. Like boxwood, it is amenable to shearing and can be shaped into tidy forms, if desired.

Unlike English holly (Ilex aquifolium), Japanese holly does not bear spines. This is a desirable trait if you are looking for a plant that is comfortable to be around. For example, you do not want anything with thorns when landscaping around a swimming pool. On the other hand, the lack of spines may make Japanese holly less desirable for a security hedge.


Some gardeners grow this shrub in full sunshine, but Ilex crenata bushes tolerate shade just fine, although berry production may be reduced.


It grows best in ground that drains well but will tolerate clayey soil. It also prefers a soil pH that is acidic; otherwise, its leaves may yellow.


Japanese holly likes about 1 inch of water weekly, during the growing season, taking care not to over water. This is especially important during the first two years of the tree's life.

Temperature and Humidity

Deriving from a species indigenous to eastern Asia, Hetz's Japanese holly generally can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-8, although the bush's cold-hardiness is not guaranteed throughout a zone 5 area. To improve your plant's prospects of enduring a winter in zone 5, apply mulch and/or furnish it with a microclimate, perhaps with the aid of a shrub shelter.


Hetz's Japanese Holly Varieties

  • 'Helleri': is a dwarf, mounding type. Several planted in a row would form a medium-sized hedge to serve, for example, as the border for a flower bed
  • 'Golden Helleri': offers golden foliage
  • 'Sky Pencil': forms a striking column; often, pairs of this variety flank a front-door entryway


Propagating Hetz's Japanese Holly

How to Grow Hetz's Japanese Holly From Seed

From Seed

Potting and Repotting Hetz's Japanese Holly