Holly (Ilex) plant

The reason for this is their frequent occurrence in forests, in which they are considered unwood, i.e. a woody variant of the weed. In the garden as a hedge plant or in a tub, the holly, pod or Ilex plant is extremely decorative, easy to care for and especially popular with birds. And even in winter, because the holly is evergreen.

The sowing of the holly

sowing of the holly

The holly can reproduce through the seeds contained in the berries. This does not require any special care or any time-consuming procedure. It is enough to put the whole berries flat in the ground. To do this, the berries must be ripe, which is usually not the case until October.
However, this type of propagation requires a lot of patience with the Ilex. It can take up to three years for a germ to sprout from the seed. In addition, female and male plants must be present so that flowers can be fertilized and berries can develop.

  • Simply sow the ripe berries
  • Possibly three years to germination
  • Male and female plants necessary
  • Cross-fertilization, usually by bees, of the flowers is required
Tip: For targeted propagation, it is better to rely on subsidence, as propagation by seeds can take a very long time.

The location – plant the ilex properly

The holly is an undemanding plant in itself. For it to thrive well and grow vigorously, however, it needs a deep soil that should be as free of lime as possible. The chosen location should be rich in humus and light. The Ilex can also tolerate penumbra as long as it lets enough light through.
The soil substrate should also be kept moist at all times. The holly is just as sensitive to complete drying out as it is to waterlogging. This applies both to planting in the garden and to pots.

The right location for Ilex at a glance

  • As bright as possible, few shadows
  • Keep constantly moist, avoid drying out and waterlogging
  • Choose a humus-rich but lime-free substrate
  • Deep location required, as holly are so-called deep or heart roots
  • Young plants can be planted in pots
Tip: The holly grows very slowly at 10 to 20 cm per year and is therefore suitable as a decorative container plant for a long time.

Repotting and moving the Ilex

Moving the Holly(Ilex)

Of course, the holly only needs to be repotted if it is used as a container plant. And here too, due to the slow growth, it seldom needs to be repotted. The only thing to note is that a soil rich in humus and low in lime – or, better still, lime-free – is chosen and sufficient space is allowed for the roots. The taller the bucket, the better for the holly.

Repositioning is possible without any problems, but should be carried out in a way that is gentle on the roots – i.e. taking a large root ball with you.

  • You only need to repot if the bucket is no longer sufficient for the roots
  • Pay attention to humus-rich, lime-free substrate
  • Ensure that there is sufficient water drainage
  • The ideal time for repotting and moving is late spring or early autumn
Tip: With good care and ideal conditions, the Ilex can grow faster. More frequent repotting is then necessary. Ornamental forms, such as the Japanese holly or Ilex crenata, require annual repotting or repotting up to the age of 10. From this point onwards, the earth must be changed every two years.


As an evergreen and undemanding plant, the holly hardly needs any care once it has grown. It is perfectly sufficient to provide them with sufficient water and protect them from strong winds.


Normally, additional watering is only necessary if the holly is a container plant on a covered balcony or terrace and cannot take care of itself through the roots. As already mentioned above, waterlogging must be avoided, as this can quickly lead to rot and Ilex is very sensitive to it. However, prolonged drought also harms the holly.

Tip: Pay attention to lime-free, soft water. The holly thrives best when clean rainwater is used for watering.


Additional fertilization can normally be dispensed with with the Ilex. However, the soil should not be too poor in nutrients either. It is advisable, especially with young plants, to apply little fertilizer at long intervals, to pay attention to the pH value of the soil and to balance it if necessary. The holly thrives in the neutral to acidic pH range.

Suitable fertilizers for Ilex

  • Hornspäne
  • Complete mineral fertilizer
  • Apply chopped plants or lawn clippings, 4 to 6 cm thick.

Cut or not?

The holly can easily be cut and shaped as desired. However, it is not necessary for beautiful, full growth. Unlike many other plants, a suitable time for this is summer. July and August in particular. However, spring and winter, with the longest possible frost-free time, can also be used for cutting.

The shape cut is particularly recommended when the holly is used as a hedge or privacy screen. In any case, it should be noted that the ilex usually only grows. On average only about 15cm per year, so too much should not be cut away.

  • Cut not necessary but possible without any problems.
  • Ideal cutting time July to August
  • Shorten it carefully as it grows very slowly.

The overwintering of the Ilex

Separate winter protection is only necessary for the Ilex if it is a question of very young plants or sensitive ornamental forms. Because in general the holly are frost hardy and survive long winters well. At least as long as they had enough time to develop deep roots. New plants should therefore always be moved or planted in spring.
Holly in the bucket should be allowed to overwinter in a cool but bright place and must be watered regularly. Sub-zero temperatures must be avoided, especially with very small and young plants, as the tubs do not offer sufficient protection.

  • Protected overwintering is only necessary for very young and container plants
  • Older ilexes with pronounced roots are frost hardy
  • Hibernate potted plants in a cool, bright place
  • If necessary, additional watering on frost-free days, drying out must be avoided at all costs

Propagate the ilex

The holly can be propagated quite easily and in several ways. It is possible to grow them from ripe berries. However, this variant usually takes a lot of time. Cuttings can also be planted for propagation. However, rooting is difficult here. The fastest and safest form of propagation is to use natural shoots – the so-called offshoots. These only have to be carefully separated from the parent plant. Since they have already developed roots, they can be moved directly in the garden or planted in pots.

  • Propagation by the seeds contained in the berries requires male and female plants, cross-pollination by insects, ripe berries and patience
  • Cut cuttings do not always develop roots
  • Naturally emerging cuttings are the safest and fastest form of holly propagation

Diseases and pests

Holly (Ilex) Diseases and pests

The pod, as the holly is also called, is usually resistant to diseases and pests. Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of them being attacked by them.
Protection or treatment is only necessary if the ilex is affected. Nothing has to be used as a preventive measure.

Tip: If the leaves turn yellow or brown in spring, show spots and fall off, usually neither pests nor diseases are responsible. As a rule, the holly just didn’t get enough water in winter. Drying out should therefore always be avoided.

Toxic and yet edible

The red and decorative berries of the Ilex are nice to look at, but highly poisonous. At least for people and pets. Just 20 berries are enough to kill an adult human. It is correspondingly less in children, cats and dogs. And the leaves of the holly are also poisonous to humans.
If the fruits are prepared correctly, they can be edible in the form of fruit brandy. In the past, roasted holly berries were also used as a coffee substitute.
If the preparation is not carried out professionally, the berries can pose a potentially fatal hazard.

Ilex as natural bird food in winter
As poisonous as the holly berries and leaves are for mammals, for some birds they ensure survival in winter. The fruits of the ilex are preferred by native birds if they have already suffered frost a few times. In addition, the evergreen plants serve as a nesting place and protection in winter.

Holly as a danger for pets and children
The red berries of the holly shine and shine and are vaguely reminiscent of red currants. This can be tempting to children and pets, and lead to the poisonous berries being eaten. Symptoms of such poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea, fatigue, circulatory disorders, inflammation of the digestive organs, kidney damage and symptoms of paralysis. If such symptoms occur after a stay in the garden, a doctor should be consulted immediately and he should be informed about the poisonous plant.
To avoid poisoning, pets and children should always be kept away from the holly.

In addition to the fruits, however, the leaves of the ilex can also cause damage, because they gave the holly its name. In particular, the lower and distant leaves with their pointed spikes and spines have proven their worth and can injure the skin and eyes.

  • Berries and leaves are poisonous
  • Leaves can cause injuries
  • Children and pets should be kept away from the plants

Ilex as a medicinal plant

Despite its toxicity, holly is also used as a medicinal plant. It is used in homeopathy, for example, and in the case of Bach flowers it is carried under the name “Holly”.
However, you should urgently refrain from using it yourself, as this can have potentially fatal consequences. Prepared preparations are cleaned and diluted extracts that cannot be produced in this way in the private sector.

Conservation of the wild holly
Wildly growing holly, which occur naturally in local forests, are specially protected. It is therefore forbidden to take or destroy offshoots from the forest or the wild.

The holly is a frost-hardy and evergreen plant that adorns the garden all year round and can also be extremely decorative in the bucket. In addition, it is easy to care for, resistant to diseases and pests and easily reproducible, enchants with flowers, berries and unusual leaves. And wintering is also very easy in the bucket. However, the plant can also pose a life-threatening threat to children and pets. It should therefore only be used in gardens where adequate protection can be offered. Birds thank garden owners with holly by lively playing, eating, and nesting. Because the poison of the Ilex cannot harm them.

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