How to Grow and Care for Xylosma

Freshly rained on xylosma (brush holly)

Bri Weldon / flickr / CC BY 2.0

Xylosma is a genus of about 100 species of evergreen shrubs, commonly called brush hollies, in the blooming willow family. They are found across the globe in tropical and subtropical climates including Florida and Hawaii.

Foliage and form are this shrub's most noteworthy features with new leaves emerging in bronze and copper then turning to shiny dark green as they mature. The main stem or trunk takes on an interesting zig-zag shape with arching branches that sometimes droop to the ground.

White or yellow flowers can inconspicuously appear in late summer into fall. Some varieties bloom year-round and can be followed by red or black berries. Xylosma are dioecious which means each plant has only male or female flowers so two plants are needed to produce fruit.

Xylosma grow best in full sun and adapt to slightly acidic soil types. This is a warm-weather shrub so it looks its best when kept evenly moist, although it's drought tolerant. Its strongly scented leaves act as food for several kinds of caterpillars and its flowers attract bees and other pollinators, while its berries draw birds and other wildlife. However, it's important to be careful of its thorns and sharply pointed leaves.

 Common Name Brush holly
 Botanical Name  Xylosma
Family   Salicaceae
 Plant Type  Broadleaf evergreen
 Mature Size  8 to 15 feet tall and wide
 Sun Exposure  Full sun, part shade
 Soil Type  Adaptable, medium moist, well draining
 Soil pH  6.0 to 7.5
 Bloom Time  September to November
 Flower Color  Cream, yellow
 Hardiness Zones  7 to 11 U.S.
 Native Area  China, Asia, Tropics, S. America, Hawaii, Florida

Xylosma Care

Xylosma grows rapidly but responds well to pruning. It can be trained into a small multi-stemmed tree and works equally well grown as a hedge or screen. Other than keeping it shaped to your preference, this is a hardy shrub well-adapted to a wide range of growing conditions in its hardiness zones USDA 7 to 11.

  • Check to make sure xylosma will survive in your climate.
  • Plant in a location that receives full sun.
  • Water to keep soil evenly moist for best foliage.
  • Prune annually.


Plant xylosma in full sun to part shade location. This plant is heat and drought-tolerant but appreciates some afternoon shade when grown in the hottest environments.


Adaptable to most soil types, xylosma needs a pH level of 6.0 to 7.5. It will grow in poor soil as long as it drains well.


Xylosma is drought tolerant. Once established, it can be used in xeriscapes and desert climates. However, regular watering produces lusher, denser foliage. Be sure to water your xylosma once a week after planting it outside. Then, reduce irrigation to keep its soil evenly moist as needed in extremely hot temperatures or when the surface becomes dry.

Temperature and Humidity

Xylosma can lose its leaves when it's in a deciduous habit if temperatures drop below freezing. Although its roots can survive low temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees F., this shrub can succumb to extended periods of cold weather. However, xylosma is tolerant of hot and dry conditions as long as sufficient irrigation is provided,


Supplemental feeding is not needed for this evergreen shrub which adapts to poor soils. However, an application of balanced NPK fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in early spring may improve foliage. Use a liquid-based fertilizer and water well.


Xylosma is a versatile plant that serves multiple landscaping purposes in warmer climates. Here are a few ways to add this plant to your yard and garden.

  • Plant 6 to 9 feet apart to form a hedge, privacy screen, or windbreak.
  • Prune two to three primary trunks for a small multi-stemmed tree.
  • Use as a filler to set off blooming shrubs like lantana, crepe myrtle, and shrub roses.
  • Prune to keep it small and plant it as a specimen shrub in foundation beds and borders.
  • Attracts pollinators, butterflies, birds, and wildlife to your gardens.
  • Plant in pots for patios and outdoor living spaces.
  • Use in xeriscapes and low water use environments.
  • Plant along fencing, stone walls, and buildings to soften hardscape.
  • Create a topiary or espalier for decorative elements.

Types of Xylosma

Xylosma is a genus that includes about 100 different named plant varieties, 45 of which are recognized as species. The species is most often grown in the United Staes as X. congestum, commonly called Shiny Xylosma, and its cultivar, 'Compacta' is a dwarf cultivar growing 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.

Other recognized species are found globally in tropical and subtropical environments, however, some are considered endangered.


This shrub grows rapidly, up to 2 feet a year, and requires annual pruning. Remove up to one-third of the branches in autumn to maintain the desired form. Xylosma adapts readily to shaping and works well as topiary and as an espaliered tree. To train it to form a small tree, remove all but two or three of the main trunks and prune out the lower branches.

Propagating Xylosma

Conservation organizations and environmental agencies are working to cultivate many species of xylosma, like endangered cultivars or the ones dwindling in their native habitats. You can grow this shrub both from seeds and with cuttings.

Propagating shiny xylosma can be attempted by taking cuttings from your shrub, however, the success rate is low. For this reason, it's advised to purchase plants from a reliable greenhouse nursery.


Grown in pots in cooler climates, xylosma can be moved into the garage or outbuilding if temperatures remain below freezing for an extended period. A heavy layer of mulch may protect roots if temperatures drop below 10 degrees F., however, plant loss can still occur. Expect your plant to lose its leaves at 25 degrees F. or below. As long as roots remain undamaged, xylosma will produce new foliage the following spring.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Pests include spider mites, whiteflies, and glassy-winged sharpshooters that cause yellowing leaves, stunting, and whitish deposits on branches. The best control method applying insecticidal soap.

Xylosma can succumb to armillaria root rot. Once the fungus is established, there is no cure and affected plants should be removed and disposed of. Powdery mildew and rust are other fungi that can be avoided and controlled by providing good air circulation and irrigating at the soil level.

Common Problems With Xylosma

Xylosma is adaptable and will grow in soil with basic nutrients, however, too much or too little of the right minerals can cause problems to develop.

Discolored or Faded Foliage

Foliage problems include spotting, brown tips, discoloring, or fading which is usually the result of mineral deficiencies, most often nitrogen and iron. It's recommended to have your soil analyzed, so you can boost the minerals the plant lacks.

Leaf Tip, Branch Dieback, and Yellowing Leaf Margins

These conditions are the result of excess minerals and can be avoided by planting in soil with good drainage, irrigating correctly, and reducing fertilizer.

  • Is xylosma fast growing?

    Shiny xylosma, X. congestum, and its cultivars are rapid growers. They can grow up to 24 inches in height annually.

  • Will xylosma grow in shade?

    This shrub prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. Full shade locations will cause it to struggle with thin, unattractive foliage.

  • How tall does xylosma grow?

    Shiny xylosma, X. congestum, grows to an average of 8 to 15 feet tall and wide. The dwarf cultivar 'Compacta' is a bit smaller at 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.

Article Sources
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  1. No Common Name (Xylosma Crenatum), U.S. Fish and Wildlife

  2. Xylosma Crenatum,

  3. Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally, The International Plant Propagator's Society