How to Grow the Best Japanese Holly Shrub or Tree

Japanese holly, Ilex crenata, is a broad-leaf evergreen shrub or small tree. It is easy to grow the best Japanese holly when you provide the plant with the requirements it needs. The holly is a member of the Aquifoliaceae family and a favorite type of holly grown in Zones 6-8. Find facts and information on growing and caring for Japanese holly.

"Japanese Holly"

Japanese Holly

Japanese Holly Facts

This beautiful evergreen shrub grows 10-12 ft. high by 3-5 ft. wide. The species of Japanese holly is a large evergreen or small tree that is most often grown for its boxwood-like cultivars with small, dark, evergreen leaves and dense, tight forms.

A favorite cultivar is the ubiquitous ‘Helleri’ which is a small, rounded, slow-growing shrub that is found in foundation plantings throughout much of the country. It needs no pruning to keep its beautifully rounded, almost hemispherical shape. Although it is sold in Zone 5 nurseries, it won’t survive a harsh Zone 5 winter.

It has dark, green, 1/2” x 1/4” x 1/2 leaves are alternate, simple, and evergreen. The non-ornamental bark is green when young, then gray-green with age. Insignificant flowers are whitish. Only female plants produce the non-showy, round, black berries (drupes) in fall that remain until spring. Many cultivars are available.

Landscape Uses of Japanese Holly

Varieties of Ilex capanata are used widely and are as versatile as boxwood, especially in Zones 6 and 7, where its pure and often geometrical form has a pleasant, stiff formality. Use them as foundation and landscaping shrubs, massed as a groundcover, or as a low hedge.

Growing Requirements

You will be able to grow the best Japanese hollies when you plant them in in full sun to shade and give them the right soil and moisture levels they need. Try to plant in moist, but loose soil that is well-drained and somewhat acidic. Shelter it from winter winds and mulch the base, especially in the North. It also requires little to no pruning to stay in shape. It may be afflicted by spider mites, nematodes, and black knot.


Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ has a tight, branching column with glossy, dark leaves. It grows 6-10’ h x 1-2’ w.

Ilex crenata ‘Beehive’ has a mounding form with glossy, deep green leaves, 4’ h x 5’-6’w.

Ilex crenata ‘Convexa’ Male with convex leaves. 9’ h x 2’ w. Zone 5.

Ilex crenata ‘Geisha’ with tiny, shiny leaves with yellow berries. 2 1/2” h and w.

Ilex crenata ‘Glory’ is extremely cold hardy (male) with glossy, deep green foliage, 5’ h x 8’ w. Zone 5

Ilex crenata ‘Green Lustre’ is very hardy, with shiny, dark green leaves. 4’ h x 6’-7’w. Zone 5.

Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’ a small mound growing to about 4’ h x 5’w. Do not plant in Zones lower than Zone 6.

Ilex crenata ‘Northern Beauty’ this variety has black berries in the fall that are eaten by birds. It is often used as a barrier hedge, either trimmed or untrimmed. Height of 4’ x 4-5’w.


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