How to prune holly?

laurie_ky6(z6 KY)July 2, 2011

I have some hollies I can't identify. If someone tells me how to post a picture, I'll do so. (I did read the instructions, but now that I am in the message box, it isn't clear what to do next.)

Sans photos, I can describe one of the hollies well enough to elicit some advice on pruning. Five years after planting the bush it is just under 6' tall. (I didn't plant it, or I would know what it is.) It has a very loose, open habit, with rope-like branches. At least half the branches have no leaves on the inner 12-18". Where the leaves start, they appear in clusters. The central stalk is about an inch and a half in diameter. The stalk and branches are light olive green. The leaves are an inch to an inch and a half in length, scalloped in the way many types of holly leaves are.

Most of my pruning experience involves bushes with leaves along the entire branch. So, I'd just cut above a leaf node. I can't do that on this holly. The leaves are at the end of the branches. The landscapers planted a few of these around my development, and the gardeners have just been shearing off the outer portions of the bushes and taking the top off the central stalk. Some of these hollies look hideous now - all ropey branches with few leaves. Mine looks better, but I don't know what to do with it. (I told the gardeners to leave it alone.)

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viburnumvalley(z5/6 KY)

A picture would sure help understand what kind of situation you have, and what advice to give.

Maybe you should use a website where it is easier to post an image...

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 4:54PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

check out the link

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 5:55PM
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laurie_ky6(z6 KY)

Thanks, Ken! Let's see if this works.

This photo actually makes the holly in question look more leafy that it really is. Notice the bare portions of the branches. Where do I prune these? As my original post said, the leaves are in clusters at the ends of the branches.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 9:46AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

how about you step back.. and give us a pic of the whole ...

it could just be a sparse first flush.. and it will fill in as summer goes along ...

to my eye.. its planted too close to the house for the potential it shows.. you might be better off getting rid of the prior owners mistake.. and making your own.. lol ...

at least that way.. you will get a plant you know and like.. rather than battling the coward who ran from it, mistake...


    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 10:24AM
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viburnumvalley(z5/6 KY)

As noted: show us the whole plant.

This looks like one of the Blue Holly selections (Ilex x meserveae), albeit a very poorly grown one.

If you want to keep it and "dense it up", that's going to take a few seasons of patient pruning. Hollies will break new growth from older stems, but will only do so satisfactorily if approached prudently and with good growing conditions. I can't make those determinations from a single image, though.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 11:32AM
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laurie_ky6(z6 KY)

The close-up shot provides the best view of the branches, but I'll post a full shot if I can find some time. Not sure what that will show you, though. My verbal description makes clear that a large percentage of the branches are leaf-less except for the clusters at the ends.

The plant isn't crowding the house, and I don't have the option of removing it, as this is a condominium development. It was a major victory to get the incompetent grounds crew to leave my plantings alone so I can do the pruning myself in the way that best suits each plant. I like hollies; I'd like to make this one happy.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 3:52PM
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laurie_ky6(z6 KY)

As requested, a photo of the entire plant:

Now, how about the advice on pruning? Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 9:43PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Blue hollies can take a fair amount of shearing. Probably best to do hard shearing in the Spring though, since if done too late in the year, the new growth might be too tender to handle winter cold.

At this point you could probably prune selected branches, or maybe only cut back six inches or so. The more shade it gets, the less dense it will be though. Is it getting a lot of shade?

A little shearing each year should shape it up, provided it gets good light and water.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 10:49AM
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viburnumvalley(z5/6 KY)

To be blunt: Garbage in = garbage out.

Per dave_in_nova's comments - you can shear this one till the cows come home, and it is still going to be a piece of cr@p.

It even appears that you have a China holly in the foreground along the brick wall. Good luck ever having this landscape planting ever seem like it is a success.

The main reason I asked for an image of the whole plant is to try to determine what species/selection this actually is. That makes a huge difference in providing pruning advice. A selection like 'Dragon Lady' would need a different recommendation entirely than a selection like 'Blue Princess', since they have entirely different growth habits. A closeup of a few leaves doesn't provide the information necessary to separate these selections.

I still think you have a heck of a challenge on your hands, and not one that will be solved with pruning advice. That is obviously a poorly pruned, grown, planted, and managed individual. I'd want to know a lot more before I merely tried to snip/tuck some of the current stems.

I am bothering to comment on your situation because I am a KY resident and a practicing public Landscape Architect in Louisville. It is part of my job to help citizens with problems like this.

A large part of my professional career was as horticulturist and landscape manager in KY prior to earning my degree in Landscape Architecture. There is often much more to consider with plant problems than the superficial conditions, and I'll assist to the extent that I'm allowed to.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 1:07AM
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