Question: I live on a golf course, and would like to create a hedge of holly bushes to keep the golfers off my property. The area in mind is sandy soil and gets partial sunlight. Are there certain species of hollies that grow better with partial sun and sandy soil?
Answer: Many trees and shrubs make wonderful hedges. They add beauty and function to mark boundaries or to keep people or animals out of your yard. When choosing a hedge plant, it should have a dense and compact growth habit and be easily sheared. Plants with smaller leaves make better hedges than those with larger coarser leaves. If deciding between deciduous or evergreen, deciduous hedges will provide privacy only part of the year so choose an evergreen for year-round screening.
Narrow-leaved evergreens require less pruning. Arborvitae, hemlock or yews can be pruned heavily. Pines, spruces and firs should have the tips of their branches pinched off each year then pruned into the desired shape. Junipers should be pruned in the spring before growth starts, whereas pines and spruce should be pruned after growth starts.
There are more than 400 species of hollies with diverse characteristics. Hollies are a broad-leaved evergreen that require pruning more often to keep a dense growth appearance. When you prune, always cut back your holly to a side branch or bud. A light pruning in the spring before growth starts followed by a second pruning later to control the new growth is adequate.
To produce a hedge quickly, choose larger plants 3 feet or larger. The price will be higher for larger plants so deciding between cost and time is important. Another benefit of larger plants is they are less susceptible to damage the first year from mowers or trampling.
If you prefer evergreen hollies, they should be grown in an area that receives partial shade. They prefer a soil that is acidic and receives ample moisture. The traditional Christmas holly we are all familiar with is the American holly, Ilex opaca. It has large, spiny green leaves and bright red berries. It grows to approximately 50 feet tall. American hollies are a slow-growing conical shaped tree that is better suited as a focal point in your garden.
Japanese hollies can be either upright or mounded, and range in height from 3 to 10 feet. They are a common choice for mass plantings for hedges. They range from slow-growing to relatively fast-growing. The leaves are small and spineless making pruning easier. The New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association recommend the cultivar "Jersey Pinnacle" to be used as a hedge or screen. It has dark green leaves with a high gloss and small black berries in fall.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: