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Pruning tall evergreen holly

I've got a number of hollies in the back garden of a house I moved to 12 months ago. One is going to come out as it is in terrible state, and one (a male) will be left alone entirely, but two of them are getting too tall for where they are.

They are each around 12ft - 15ft, and are female evergreens (lots of berries last year and this!), though I have no idea what variety. They are both fairly slender in their growth, cetainly not bushy.

What I'd like to do is reduce their height and encourage some bushing out.

If I cut off the mail truck/leader at about 10ft high (it'll have a diameter of a 1.5-2.0in) are they likely to:

a) die

b) sulk, but survive

c) keep calm and bush out


And is there a best time to do this?




  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,856

    I used to be a very wary cutter back but over the years i've come to realise that, for many shrubs, the harder you cut back the better. If you cut off the top few feet you may well get a nice bushy little top knot. I doubt if all the side branches would bush out as well. I'd cut it back lower and cut back the side branches as well to achieve bushyness (is that how you spell it?). The best cutting back of a holly I ever did was after one got burnt by an over-ambitious bonfire. The holly was cut back to base and within a few years was a really bushy shrub.

    Not sure when's the right time. When you get round to it? I gave one a good seeing to in October but it's too early to tell if successful. I'm not expecting it to die though. They're pretty tough.

  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    I have tried to get rid of holly trees (which actually come up like weeds in suitable circumstances), by cutting them right down to ground level. But they grow up again, as vigourous as before.

    It is not easy to get rid of a holly tree.

  • A simple wooden frame might help to get the shape you want and get it reasonably even. The shape should ideally taper to the top so as to allow the sunlight to get to the lower leaves an prevent unsightly gaps. This would be a good time of year to strile cuttings from the trimmings as I have done and (once rooted) these can be turned into attractive standards or pyramids with judicious trimming. Topiary is fun to do and the plants are pretty forgiving in growing out to hide any cutting of shapes you don't like. Cutting some of the top growth on your hedge into imaginative shapes  might be interesting too,  especially as you have a mature hedge to play with. Happy hedge trimming!  

  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,856

    Newcastle, could you do me a lesson on holly cuttings please if they can be done now. Apart from a few successful box cuttings I've had no success with evergreen cuttings at all. (Not much with any cuttings but I had a lesson on this forum a while back and I've now got lots of hardwood cuttings waiting to grow.)

    I've got 2 variegated hollies that are quite bushy and spreading but have never had a leading shoot. I'd like to do some cuttings and establish one as a potential tree. Is this likely to happen do you think or might I have got one who's nature is horizontal?

  • Thanks for your reply.

    This is really a good time of year for evergreen cuutings as temperature are low and hence the danger of your cuttings drying out is much reduced. Cuttings should ideally be about 6-7" long with a square cut at the base with a sharp knife or secateurs and only the top two or three leaves left on the cutting. A free-draining compost is best (addsharp  sand or perlite) since the cuttings should not dry out but do not need to be water-logged as this can cause them to rot. Raising them in a largeish plant pot with a clear plastic bag covering them seems to work quite well, watering as needed. They will not start to grow until the Spring at the earliest and may not root properly till the Autumn or late Summer. If they start to show some new growth that's a good sign that roots are forming. The cuttings should grow vertically with perhaps a bit of support from a stake although there is likely to be some side growth. Select a strong side branch and prune away the others cleanly with no snags. If there is no obvious strong leader shoot the tie one of the stronger side growths to a strong vertical cane to ecourage it to grow upwards. Add more ties with soft twine as it grows, preferably firm but not too tight. Trimming these side branches  off as the plant grows will encourage it to grow a strong central stem and you can cut back the leading stem at the height you wish and form a lollipop shape or grow to a full sized tree if it grws unchecked. Alternatively, trim the side branches into a cone or column shape if you prefer. Tying the plant to a vertical stake as it grows will help to keep it straight but it helps to put some padding (rag or an odd piece of foam rubber) between the stem and the support to stop chafing the bark against the stake.  

    I think that it would help you a lot to get a copy of the R.H.S. Propogating book. possibly second-hand via Abe Books etc on the internet. It lists techniques for growing a wide range of plants from seed and cuttings as well as grafting. The Pruning book is excellent too. All the R.H.S. books are worthwhile come to that and quite cheap in paper-back.

    You can see some excellent examples of topiary and ornamentally trimmed hedges in many old country houses and places like Wesonbirt Arboretum are well worth a visit.

    I hope this is of some help.

    Good Gardening,


  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,856

    Many thanks David

    I've saved to my garden file and will print out as an instruction sheet. I should get the book. One becomes a bit dependent on the internet but you can't beat a good book. 

    Best wishes and thanks


  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,856

    PS. One of the hollies has put up 2 upright shoots but these are almost entirely yellow. Is it likely that they would grow from cuttings or would there not be enough chlorophyll for independent existence.


    I'm thinking cold greenhouse through the winter then shade outside. Does that sound right?

  • Holly is usually pretty robust but frost protection might be good if it is excptionally cold, as it looks as if it might be this Winter. A drop of water would be a good plan occasionally so that they do not dry out too much. The yellow leaves may simply be young growth after the late mild spell we had. I am not an expert and what I have found out is from reading and trying things on my own but some of the Holly cuttings I took some months ago have struck. It's worth doing as decently trained specimens cost a lot from a nursery. After the Winter the cuttings which have struck will just need watering and a some liquid feed to keep them going, with some fresh compost as they get established Try to avoid them becoming root bound and pot them into a bigger container or the open garden soil as the roots start to fill the original pot.. Not all the cuttings will necesarily root of course (some of mine didn't) so it is worthwhile taking more than you need in case of casualties.  

  • lisa69lisa69 Posts: 119

    Thanks Newcastle although I planted a holly last year and it doesn't seem to be doing anything at all I do have a lovely yew I wanted to take cuttings from after watch Monty a couple of weeks ago.

    nutcutlet wrote (see)

    Many thanks David

    I've saved to my garden file and will print out as an instruction sheet. I should get the book. One becomes a bit dependent on the internet but you can't beat a good book. 

    Best wishes and thanks


    Nutcutlet my OH bought me Carol Kliens 'How to Grow your Own Garden'on special offer from WHSmiths (there are some really cheap book deals around in the shops atm)  and its great information for all types of propgation certainly inspired me to have a go next spring image


  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,856

    I'm a great pottter on, sometimes too soon and disturb things that didn't want to be disturbed.

    Thanks again, A

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