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Ilex aquifolium 'J.C.van Tol' - How to improve the shape?

LucidLucid Posts: 385
Hi everyone,

I've got an Ilex aquifolium 'J.C.van Tol' that was planted in a North facing bed almost 4 years ago. It has been very slow growing so far and has stems going all over the place. The bed gets some morning sun and then later afternoon sun, but some of the plant is in the shade most of the day. I'd really like to improve the shape as I've never pruned it and would like it to bulk out - which I'm assuming could be done by some pruning to encourage new growth? However, I'm also wondering if it's not growing so well because of the site and whether it'd be better in full sun? I chose the spot it's in because I wanted it to form an evergreen barrier with a pyracantha for the birds to have cover in. But I'd envisaged it would have at least reached the top of the fence by now. There are no particularly chunky stems or trunks on it at the moment. 

The soil looks a little extra bad at the moment as we're currently extending flowerbeds, and the final levelling and mulch hasn't been done yet. To me the leaves look healthy but the stems are all over the place and I don't know if I need to encourage it to do something different.

Lucid :)


  • LucidLucid Posts: 385
    Bump in the hope that someone may have some pointers? Otherwise I think I'll attempt to cut some of the shoots down to leaf buds in the hope it'll encourage more growth, but I have no idea if that's right.

    Lucid :)
  • MarlorenaMarlorena Posts: 8,618
    edited July 2019
    In  my opinion  you shouldn't cut it... I've grown J C Van Tol.. albeit a long time ago.. it's slow to develop but it should be allowed to grow and show its character without trimming and shaping in the early years... it sounds as though you are looking for a uniform shape... that is not J C Van Tol.. it's rather unruly looking to start with, but grows in an upright manner, quite slim and if I recall - going back 25 years - a cone shape...  just leave it... if you can...
    East Anglia, England
  • RubytooRubytoo Posts: 1,582
    edited July 2019
    We have holly bushes in quite deep shade, so think yours is alright where it is.
    They are slow to start with for some years, but that also means later on they are not as vigorous so you are not cutting back loads.

    It is nice to leave them if they are in an open position to grow as they please or shape a little. But yours will be more like a wall of shrubs for the birds to nest in?
    So aim to prune it to the depth and shape you want.
    Those bare bits with a few leaves on the ends are not exactly pretty I would cut them back as you said and feel. They will sprout from there so choose the direction you want them to go.

    You will have to check to make sure but possibly leave any upright leading shots for now, I hope someone will confirm or not.
    They do respond to pruning, and feed and water them to help the new growth. With a nice composty mulch.

    I have seen some nice images of J.C Van Tol on the web pruned to various shapes like cones and in hedges and they look as good as any other.

    (We had two in the front garden some years ago, only a foot tall and the verge mowing people ran over them. I lost heart and gave up).
    I chose them because they produce berries freely.

    Your soil , I have some that looks the same at the moment with new planting going on, it will look better with compost added :)
  • LucidLucid Posts: 385
    Thanks so much for your replies @Marlorena and @Rubytoo. I'm not really after a uniform shape but was just envisaging it'd be more upright and bulky by now and thought a pruning may help. However I'm happy to wait for it to get bigger if that's all it needs. I will neaten those more scraggly looking shoots for now.

    Lucid :)
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