How to Grow and Care for Yaupon Holly

Native American evergreen shrub's short and tall varieties can live to 75 years

Yaupon holly shrub with bright red berries clustered under branch

The Spruce / Loren Probish

The yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that grows 10 to 30 feet tall with green leaves and red berries. It adds vibrance to your garden throughout the year but is considered a holiday plant for its green and red color combination.

The plant bears glossy green, oval leaves up to one inch long and features fine-toothed margins. Its native range is from coastal east Texas to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, along the south Atlantic coast. This plant's lifespan is relatively long, from 30 to 75 years.

This plant is technically not considered "invasive" since it's native to the United States. Still, it is regarded as a weedy, aggressive grower that can overtake an area, stifle other plant life, and is hard to eradicate.

Each specimen is either male or female. Only the female has berries and requires pollination by a male plant to bear fruit—small berries that are usually red but sometimes yellow. Both plants produce small white flowers in the spring. The caffeine-rich leaves of Ilex vomitoria plants are good for brewing tea and are used as an alternative to coffee, in spite of its misleading scientific name. But you cannot eat the yaupon holly berries because they are toxic to humans and animals.

Common Name Youpon holly, yaupon, cassina
Botanical Name  Ilex vomitoria
Family Aquifoliaceae
Plant Type Shrub, tree
Mature Size 10-30 ft. tall, 8-12 ft. width
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Green, white
Hardiness Zones  7-9 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Yaupon Holly Care

Native to the southeastern United States, yaupon holly is often planted as an informal hedge shrub or privacy screen since it requires minimal shaping and is available in several attractive, mounding, slow-growing cultivars like dwarf 'Nana,' 'Stokes,' and 'Schilling.'

Yaupon holly is one of the more tolerant holly shrubs and does well in various soil types, moisture levels, pH levels, and sun exposures. Yaupon holly is free of many problems plaguing other hollies, with good resistance to most diseases and pests. Once roots are well established, yaupon hollies are drought-resistant and transplant easily. After planting, apply mulch at the base of the plant to keep the soil moist and cool. Light annual pruning is recommended, especially if you grow the plant as a hedge. Plants being grown as small trees require more diligent pruning.

Yaupon holly shrub with red berry clusters between branches of oval leaves

The Spruce / Loren Probish

Yaupon holly shrub with dense branches of oval leaves and red berries hanging in clusters

The Spruce / Loren Probish


Yaupon holly tolerates full and partial sun. However, growth in full sun will yield more berries.


The yaupon holly prefers sandy soil but grows well in diverse soil compositions. It has a high tolerance for salty soil, making it a good choice for planting near the ocean.


Yaupon hollies are somewhat drought resistant but should be watered regularly. Water the root ball twice or three times a week during the plant's first year and then weekly. Use rainwater and distilled water rather than tap water and water during the morning or evening.

Temperature and Humidity

Yaupon holly's USDA zones are 7 through 9, which means it is hardy in temperatures that dip as low as 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It can adapt to various climates but prefers slightly cooler and humid weather. It may struggle to survive winters at the higher end of its hardiness range. Yaupon hollies are generally cold-resistant.


You can fertilize your yaupon holly lightly once in the spring and fall, and be sure not to fertilize during planting. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions. You may apply a thin layer of mulch to the ground but avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers.

Types of Yaupon Holly

  • 'Folsom's Weeping': Dense shrub with small, neat, narrow foliage; produces many berries; 1-inch oval, toothed leaves
  • 'Nana' or 'Compacta' dwarf: Also called dwarf yaupon holly, grows about 4 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 5 feet
  • 'Pride of Houston': One of the heaviest berry producers cherished by birds from fall through winter; grows about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide
  • 'Schilling's Dwarf': Seldom reaches heights of more than 3 feet tall; highly salt tolerant
  • 'Stokes Dwarf': Grows 2 to 3 feet tall; can withstand drought or flooding
  • 'Will Fleming': Grows up to 15 feet tall; drought and salt spray tolerant, tolerates wet soil


While typically unnecessary, you can lightly prune a yaupon holly to maintain your desired shape or limit disease spread. If the tree is small, prune the lower side branches.

You can rejuvenate badly overgrown shrubs by cutting away up to one-third of the branches. Cut selected stems down the base of the plant. When shaping as a hedge, cut the ends of branches back to 1/4 inch above a node facing the direction you want the branch to grow. Cut away suckers from the base of the plant as they appear unless your goal is to encourage the shrub to grow into a thicket.

Propagating Yaupon Holly

Yaupon holly is best propagated from small, semi-hardwood cuttings taken in the fall. Here's how to propagate a yaupon holly:

  1. Select small branches and sever the cutting below a set of leaves.
  2. Remove the lower leaves, then coat the cut end with a rooting hormone.
  3. Place the cutting in a mixture of perlite and coarse sand, and keep the cutting moist and warm until roots develop.
  4. After 8 to 10 weeks, you can transplant the cutting into a large pot filled with a loam and sand mix.
  5. Transplant to a permanent location.

How to Grow Yaupon Holly From Seed

If you are willing to handle the berries, is also possible to harvest them and extract their seeds to grow even more yaupon holly. Here's how.

  1. Select berries and remove their outer flesh.
  2. Place a soil mixture of half loam and half perlite into a 4-inch pot, leaving some room at the top.
  3. Cover the seeds with loam and a thin layer of sand.
  4. Cover them with plastic and place them on a 70-degree Fahrenheit heating mat for a month or two.
  5. Move the pots into a refrigerator and store them there for two to three months.
  6. Move the pots to a partially shaded area and remove the plastic.
  7. Grow in partial shade for the first summer and winter.
  8. Transplant the plants in the spring.

Potting and Repotting Yaupon Holly

You can pot a yaupon holly in any pot with adequate drainage, but heavier pots made of wood and terracotta are ideal. Fill your container with potting soil, loosen the plant's roots with your fingers, and insert the shrub. Keep the soil moist and fertilize every one to two weeks.


The yaupon holly does well during winter and can survive in low temperatures. You may prune the shrub lightly or bundle its branches with ropes to prevent damage from heavy snowfall.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Yaupon hollies are relatively resistant to many pests and diseases but can be susceptible to leafminers. The eggs hatch quickly and can cause discoloration and holes in the leaves. You should remove damaged leaves manually to stop a further infestation and spray an insecticide on the plant. Remove affected leaves and adjust watering and fertilization practices as needed. Other pests that are attracted to yaupon hollies include spider mites, whitefies, and scale insects.

Yaupon hollies can develop fungal diseases, such as leaf spot, black root rot, and tar spot, which thrive in poorly drained soil. Powdery mildew can also pose a minor problem with yaupon holly plants and can be treated with fungicides.

Common Problems With Yaupon Holly

The yaupon holly tends to be disease and pest-resistant, except for rare infestations and disease and the resulting damage. As with any tree, pay attention to its general health and the possible presence of insects and watch for these signs.

Yellowing Leaves

It's normal for some leaves to turn yellow and drop from the yaupon holly in the spring and summer. An abundance of yellowing leaves could also mean the plant is stressed due to underwatering, overwatering, transplant shock, or another cultural problem.

Browning Leaves

This plant can tolerate drought well. But a severe lack of water can turn leaves brown. The leaves could be experiencing windburn, as well, which tends to brown foliage, especially in late winter and early spring.

  • How long do yaupon hollies live?

    Yaupon hollies can live between 30 and 75 years.

  • What plants are similar to yaupon hollies?

    The yaupon holly is similar to many other hollies in its family.The Japanese holly is nearly identical to the yaupon holly but bears shiny black fruits as opposed to the red shade of the yaupon berries. Remember, all hollies present some level of toxicity.

  • Can you grow a yaupon holly indoors?

    You can grow a yaupon holly indoors, but more careful pruning will be necessary to control the spread. Also, if you have pets or young children, beware its berries are toxic to pets and humans.

Article Sources
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  3. YAUPON HOLLY CULTURE AND PEST MANAGEMENT FOR TEA PRODUCTION AND ORNAMENTAL USE. University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Science.

  4. Ilex vomitoria. North Carolina State University Extension.
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  6. Wind Scorch. The Royal Horticultural Society.

  7. Holly Plant. British Columbia Drug ad Poison Information Centre.