When is the Best Time to Prune Holly Shrubs

when to prune holly shrubs

Knowing when to prune holly shrubs can be a tricky process. If done at the wrong time of year, you could risk damaging the plant or inadvertently disrupting its growth for the season.

To get the best results from your pruning efforts, follow this guide to learn the ideal times and techniques for getting your holly bushes in prime shape.

Determine Which Type of Holly You Have

When it comes to pruning your holly shrubs, not all species require the same timeline. Before taking any action, do a bit of research to identify the specific type of holly in your yard. Some evergreen varieties don’t require pruning at all and some can only be trimmed during very specific months. Determine which type you have before getting started so you know when best to prune.

You rarely need to prune a Japanese holly except to trim off any dead limbs or to keep it in a neat shape. You can tell if you have a Japanese holly by the color of the berries. Japanese holly shrubs have black, not red berries.

Prunin shearsPruning at the Right Time of Year

Holly shrubs are known for handling extensive pruning. You can trim them almost any time of the year. But heavy pruning in fall or early winter could cause issues.  Any new growth may not become cold-hardy enough before the next frost. This can not only cause the new growth to die but also makes your whole plant more vulnerable to frost damage & other diseases.

The best time to prune holly shrubs will depend on the variety, but generally speaking, the best time to prune any type of holly is in late winter or early spring before new growth appears. Even holly shrubs go into a dormant state during the coldest weather. New growth will stop.  Right at the end of the worst cold weather is the best time to heavily prune holly shrubs. It’s important not to trim them in late summer or autumn as this can lead to extensive dieback and poor flowering the following year.

Watch the Weather Before You Prune Holly Shrubs

Before you begin pruning your holly shrub, make sure to create the best possible environment for successful pruning. If the temperature is below freezing or above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, hold off on trimming until it’s in a more suitable range.

You also don’t want to prune after rain or in the morning if there is excessive dew. Fresh cuttings when damp become much more susceptible to fungus & diseases.

Also, make sure to keep an eye out for any freshly forming buds and mark the spot before you start trimming. These are important indicators of when new growth will sprout and it’s not a good idea to trim them away.

dead holly leavesCut Away Dead, Diseased or Damaged Branches First

The best time to prune holly shrubs is in late winter right before new growth begins. Once the cold of winter has passed, take a look for damaged or dead branches that need to be cut away. Obviously, if you spot any unhealthy branches that are diseased or have visible signs of damage, like splitting wood, then those should go too. Make sure to also remove old seed heads as they won’t grow out as new healthy foliage.

Thinning Out Your Holly to Promote Growth and Fruiting

Pruning holly is also beneficial for thinning out the branches, opening up the shrub to more sunlight, and allowing more airflow. This will reduce pests and diseases, as well as promote new growth, and encourage a healthier production of the bright red berries. When thinning the holly shrub, take care not to over-prune it; remove around one-third of the total branch mass at a time.

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Perfect Plants

Doug Hall