I have a beautiful holly bush that I absolutely love. Unfortunately, it has gotten away from me and grown to be ungainly and way too large. How can I prune it down to a more reasonable size and shape without putting it into shock or killing it? Allison
You can safely prune your holly by 1/3 without shocking it, in other words, you can reduce the height by 1/3 and the width by 1/3 each year. You must use sharp hand pruners and loppers. Do not prune with electric hedge trimmers! Keep in mind that wherever you make a pruning cut is the spot where new growth will be stimulated, so you'll want to make some cuts at various spots inside the shrub. One of the reasons I don't like electric hedge trimmers is the new growth will be stimulated on the outside of the shrub which will make it thick and tangled which invites insects and disease. The other reason to avoid electric hedge trimmers is that they are often not kept sharp and end up tearing the plant and not cutting properly.
Start pruning from the inside of your holly and make sure you prune out any crossing branches (there will be many). This will help improve air circulation within the shrub which is important. Remove any thin, hanging and dead branches. When you are finished, al of the branches should be coming out straight from the main stem out to the branch tips. Raise the bottom branches up of the ground by 6-8" to allow for air circulation within the plant. Do not be afraid to prune, this plant will grow back very well. By the time you are finished, it should nt look like the holly you started out with. You should be able to see through it. If you can't see through it, prune some more. The best time to do this type of pruning is between May and August so new growth will fil in the plant. Once you do the pruning I described, it will be easy to do touch up pruning at least once/year.
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About Linda Lillie
Linda K. Lillie is the President of Sprigs & Twigs, Inc, the premier
landscape design and maintenance, tree care, lawn care, stonework, and carpentry
service provider in southeastern Connecticut since 1997. She is a graduate of
Connecticut College in Botany, a Connecticut Master Gardener and a national
award winning landscape designer for her landscape design and landscape installation work.