American Holly–You Can Grow That!

For years I’ve pined to plant American holly (Ilex opaca)  on my Connecticut (zone 6) property, vowing each will be the year I cough up the substantial cash needed to purchase a 4-5 foot specimen. Each year other needs upstage my need  but his spring, while pondering when and where to make my purchase, I came upon an American holly seedling while gardening at a client’s property. At about a foot tall, it peeked out from behind a boxwood hedge, searching for the light. My immediate reaction was I Can Grow That! … and, if successful, can use my experiment to urge others You Can Grow That! too.

After receiving permission, I carefully dug out the seedling to nurse in a pot at home. To my delight I found another, smaller seedling, then another, then another. Over the course of my spring clean-up at this property I dug up seven American holly seedlings (my client was not interested in having me transplant them elsewhere on the property).

The seedlings, between 6 and 12 inches tall, each found a new home in a clay or plastic pot, with roots surrounded by a blend of native soil and compost. They lived in a northwestern exposure from May through August (bright light, late afternoon sun) to give roots a chance to develop. Here they are in September, after living in pots since May.

Ilex Opaca In Pots 9 2012 Thumb


Ilex Opaca Potted 9 2012 Thumb

Then I moved them to the brighter southwestern exposure of my front porch until just this week. All seven survived and put out new growth. The tallest are now about 18-24 inches tall. All developed healthy roots and all but two have been planted somewhere on my property. I planted three in partial shade at the woodland edge or in a woodland clearing. They will receive bright light once leaves fall from surrounding deciduous trees and bright shade when surrounding trees are in full leaf.


The two larger shrubs are in a sunnier location where I hope they will eventually provide year-round screening from adjacent properties. I might try to keep the two still potted on my southwest-facing covered porch alive over the winter by insulating the pots and moving them next to the house where they will still get great light.

American hollies should be planted in a location that affords them room to slowly grow into their natural pyramidal form and mature height. They can eventually reach 50 feet.


Ilex opaca is native to Connecticut. The Connecticut College Arboretum has a wonderful collection (pictured above and below) of young and mature specimen.


They are one holly browsing deer tend to avoid. My area of Connecticut is heavily browsed by deer, as is my property. I’ve yet to see evidence of deer browsing on Ilex opaca planted on nearby properties and, so far, deer have not touched the Ilex opaca seedlings, though they browsed adjacent plants. Still, I’ve screened the largest of my transplants just in case local deer develop a taste for young transplants over the winter.


Usually, when searching for favored plants, we head to the local garden center. Yet, sometimes what we seek is right under our nose, growing where unwanted or inappropriate, but still growing. Such finds should be celebrated, be given a chance to live on in a more favored location. Such finds scream out You Can Grow That! … and with a bit of effort and desire, you can.

I look forward to enjoying my American holly shrubs in years to come. Even if my transplants all turn out to be males and don’t provide bright red berries, birds will still flock to these shrubs/trees for cover and I will enjoy the contrast of the holly’s dark green leaves against newly fallen snow.

You Can Grow That! is a blog meme seeded by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening, to remind everyone that gardening is good for people. It enriches our senses, our food, our health, fosters friendship and increases ones appreciation of nature. C.L. enlists the garden-blogging world to spread this news in posts on the fourth of each month.  Read You Can Grow That! posts at Whole Life Gardening and at the newly created You Can Grow That! website.



Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

10 comments for “American Holly–You Can Grow That!

  1. October 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, what healthy looking seedlings. We have to compare experiences with American holly. I bet your seedlings, with this great start and your careful tending, catch up to my 6 foot expensive holly tree planted last spring. The male seedling that I planted for pollination is about the size of your seedlings and growing pretty fast. How great that yours are “found” treasures!

    • October 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      Laurrie, I was thinking of you as I discovered and cared for my American holly babies. Now we finally each have some of these shrubs to compare!

  2. October 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I was wondering about the deer, after having seen pics of the deer munching on our neighbor’s Ilex verticillata. I just love to hear about these instances of frugal gardening. Frances is another fan of tightwad gardening. Her latest post demonstrates putting dogwood seedlings to good use in her garden.

    • October 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Kathy, I’m watching closely for deer browsing on the American hollies. If I thought they are as likely browse targets as other holly I would not have left any in the open. Since I potted these up there have been many opportunities for deer to nibble them. None were placed in protected areas and nearby plants were hit by deer. Winter may bring a different experience.

      I’ll check out your post suggestion … thanks. I also love dogwood seedlings.

  3. October 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

    What a great find! I always keep an eye open for shrubs, I found a few plants on unexpected places and replanted then to grow a hedge. I love going to garden centres and nursery’s but plants that just come across your path are my favourite by far!

    • October 9, 2012 at 7:21 am

      Laila, Agreed … found plants are like uncovering a treasure at a flea market. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. October 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    We have many Illex that grow down here on Cape Cod as well.
    I am pulling plant stock off of our clients properties all of the time. Young Dog woods, Japanese Maples, Holly, etc. (With permission of coarse)
    I’ve also obtained quite a few shrubs and perennials from jobs where the client wants to re-do all of the planting beds.
    I’ve always thought of myself as a plant scrounge. I really like what you said, ” Yet, sometimes what we seek is right under our nose..” .

    • October 10, 2012 at 9:57 am

      You are a man after my own heart, Forest Keeper. Why waste a perfectly good shrub, perennial or tree?

  5. October 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Joene, American holly is a great choice for You Can Grow That! How lucky you are to have found all those seedlings. I’ll be interested to see what you learn about their deer resistance. I have not seen evidence of deer browsing on American holly here but who knows!

    • October 11, 2012 at 9:16 am

      Debbie, I’m checking my uncaged American holly shrubs regularly … so far no browsing, and deer are more prevalent in my yard than ever!

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