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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Holly

holly

Ask the gardener: Holly

Everything you'll ever need to know about holly...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out…… at least that's the theory!

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Julian Smith asks...

I have a lot of holly trees in my garden most of which are healthy, but one about 5m has shed all its leaves, which first turned yellow, yet the tree itself seems sound - no die back on twigs and branches. It is in the middle of a 3m high holly hedge and close to other holly trees which are showing no sign of distress. The area is well drained. We are clay on chalk. Should I leave it in the hope it will recover or cut it out?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to say for certain Julian what has caused the yellowing and shedding of the leaves on your five metre Holly Tree taking into account that your Holly Hedge and other Holly Trees are healthy.  You say that your soil is clay on chalk and I am just wondering if the roots of the five metre Holly Tree which, will be far more vigorous, have suddenly protruded into the chalk base which, could quite easily have caused the leaves to yellow and shed. I do not think that it is either water logging or drought which has caused this problem as your Holly Hedge and other Holly Trees would also have suffered.  With regard to whether your tree will shoot again if the stems and branches are still green and healthy there is a good chance that new shoots will appear.  I am sorry that I cannot be of any more help.

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Fergus Thompson asks...

I have recently received one male and one female holly tree about 3 feet tall. Both have now developed a form of black fungus similar to a heavy form of spiders web. Both trees are kept in our porch which is sunny for most of the day. Can you recommend a cure for this problem?

Bill replies...

There is Fergus a black mould which you find on the leaves of quite a range of trees and this is commonly known as Sooty Mould and the fungus grows on the honey dew secreted by aphids.  You can wash the mould off the leaves with tepid soapy water and a damp cloth.  If your Holly Trees are not suffering from Sooty Mould there are fungal sprays such as Dithane 945 or Systhane Fungus Fighter which keep general fungus diseases under control.  Holly Trees are very hardy plants and I do feel that long term you would be far better keeping them outdoors, keeping them in the porch which, will get very hot during the summer months, could quite easily cause scorching of the leaves and your trees will be more prone to pests and disease.

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Sam asks...

I have just moved to a house where the elderly lady couldn't look after the garden.  There is a very large Holly tree which I love, but I didn't even know there was such a thing as male and female. Anyway, there are only leaves on the ends of all the branches and nothing further in, I know pruning is early spring but as there are no leaves further in they would all be cut off when pruned... Will this kill it? The other thing is how far out do the roots spread, the trunk is about a foot round and has split into two half way up and it's about 12ft tall.

Bill replies...

Hollies are hardy trees Sam and you can prune the branches during spring and early summer time and they will start to shoot again. With regard to the roots of the tree these usually spread roughly to the height/canopy of the tree.

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Andrew Gillam asks...

Just how much height can I prune off a 5m high Holly tree that is blocking sunlight from my garden without risk of killing it? I read the previous questions and answers but "hard" is not exactly a definable term. Is this 25% of the total growth, 35%, 50% or more?

Bill replies...

The time to prune your Holly Tree Andrew is springtime and, if your Holly Tree has quite a number of branches on the trunk of the tree you can prune it back just above these branches and whilst it will take time they will start to shoot again.  With regard to how much you can prune you can prune 35, 40 and 50 per cent off but, it will depend on how many branches you have at the lower level.  If your tree has no branches and the trunk is bare for three to four metres you can cut back to the main trunk but it will take a long time before shoots will appear again from the main trunk.  You are far better pruning just above a set of branches.  One of the problems with the cutting back of Hollies is that you completely loose the structure and shape of the tree especially if it has just one main stem.

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Tony Sidebottom asks...

We have a large Holly tree with a number of ground covering conifers and a catoniaster under. Could please recommend any other evergreens that would flourish in this dark area.

Bill replies...

You will find Tony that quite a number of hardy Ferns would be ideal for growing under your Holly Tree and also the perennial plant Bergenia Cordifolia will tolerate shady conditions.  I would also recommend Helleborus Foetidus which, again, is ideal for shady positions and there is also the Perry Winkle Vinca Minor Atropurpurea.  Other perennial plants which you could plant are Pulmonaria, Trillium Luteum and Tolmeia.  

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Steve asks...

I bought two small holly trees with yellow berries from the Christmas markets in Manchester just before Christmas last year. The berries are starting to fall off now (February), which I assume is normal? They are both planted in large individual pots and I am worried that berries will not return again unless there is a male plant nearby?

Bill replies...

There are single specimens of Holly Trees Steve which will bear berries and these are termed self fertile species but, there are not many of these available and with your two Holly Trees being unknown varieties you will need a male variety for pollination purposes.  These can be obtained from Garden Centres and the variety I would recommend is Ilex Aquifolium (Golden Queen) which is a male variety.

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Mike & Jackie Whitworth ask...

We have a pair of holly trees, approx. 25ft tall that we think are about 50 years old (as is the house). One is yellow varigated and the other has cream leaf edges. In October both were quite well leaved on the lower branches; 4 months later the yellow version has bare branches from the ground up to about 6/7ft but the top is putting on a lot of growth. Though not as severe, the cream one is showing the same symptoms. Can you advise what might be happening?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to pin point exactly what is wrong with your Holly Trees Mike/Jackie but, I would recommend giving your trees a liberal top dressing of a good quality base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or GrowMore and, it would also be worthwhile to mulch around the trees with some well rotted manure.  Holly Trees do suffer from frost damage and after a severe frost quite a number of leaves will fall.  Also, with your trees being twenty five feet tall you will need to keep an eye on the watering during very dry periods.

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Susan Wright asks...

I have just bought two small Holly plants. I would like to train them as standards. How do I go about this? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

I personally have never trained a Holly Tree into a standard tree but I would presume that the same procedure is used as with a standard Fuchsia which, means that you will have to take the side shoots off your main stem/leader to the height you want the standard and then allow the leader to carry on growing and also the side shoots.  It is important with any container grown plants that during the active growing season your plants are kept well watered and also feed with a general base fertiliser.

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Mrs Stringer asks...

I have just bought a small holly tree, about 19", which I want to grow in a pot and eventually into a ball.  How do I obtain the ball shape, please?  PS.  I'm very much a novice gardener!

Bill replies...

Like yourself Mrs Stringer I am also a novice at shaping Holly Trees into balls but, you will need to follow the same system as for a standard Fuchsia.  Remove all side shoots from the main stem/leader to approximately a height of two feet and then you will need to allow side shoots to form from your main leading shoot and these then can be trained into the ball shape.  You will usually find that ornamental standard ball shrubs have been grown in European countries such as Italy and Holland.

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Poodle asks...

Can you plant holly berries into the ground like seed as we have lots of the things?

Bill replies...

You will usually find that a high percentage of tree seeds including your Holly Berries Poodle require a cool dormant period before they will germinate and the usually procedure is to sow the seeds in seed trays or pots in a mixture of sharp grit sand/peat mixture (equal parts).  The seed containers can then be placed outside, covering the seed with a layer of grit/peat mixture and ensuring that the containers are covered with a plastic mesh to protect the seeds from attack from mice etc. During early springtime the seed containers need to be checked at regular intervals to check for germinating seedlings, these can then be pricked out and placed into small three inch pots in a soil based compost. To encourage germination I would remove the flesh and skin from the berries before sowing but, it could quite easily take 12 to 18 months before your seeds start to germinate.

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Julie Sullivan asks...

I recently bought a holly tree from a garden centre. The majority of the leaves are coated with a whitish dust. At first I thought it was some residue from watering in a dusty environment but the condition has persisted. Any ideas as to what this might be and how we can treat it?

Bill replies...

If the whitish dust was on the Holly Tree when you purchased it Julie from the Garden Centre I would be inclined to take the tree back.  It is difficult to give you a precise answer but the whitish dust could be powdery mildew. I am slightly worried that the plant is completely covered at this time of year (January).  You mention a dusty environment and if this is limestone dust, even though you water your tree, the residue will persist - therefore a soapy liquid is required and I suggest that you wash the leaves in a soapy liquid although,  I would personally be inclined to take the tree back to the Garden Centre to get their opinion.

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Edwin James asks...

We moved here 12 yrs ago and there is a large holly tree in the garden.  Last winter there were few leaves but berries, this year there are few more leaves on the lower branches and berries but the top is bare.  Has the tree basically finished?

Bill replies...

I would not give up on your Holly Tree just yet.  If the top part of your tree is bare and suffering from die back these shoots can be cut back to the lower branches and to encourage new shoots to appear it is well worthwhile applying in February/March time  a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal - Vitax Q4 or a specialist tree fertiliser applied around the base of the soil.  Again, it would also be worthwhile to apply some well rotted manure as a mulch.  By producing berries your Holly Tree is a female species and in close vicinity there will be a male species.

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Neil Morgan asks...

I have been nominated to do my grandmother's garden, she has a 2 large holly bushes, 1 male, 1 female and she wants me to prune them. However, she seems to think that only the male can be pruned - is this the case, or can both of them be cut back?

Bill replies...

You can prune back both male and female Holly Trees and the time for pruning is early springtime and I would not be too drastic when pruning your trees - the more shoots that you prune back the less berries that will appear on the female tree and, it would also be worthwhile early springtime to give your grandmother's Holly Trees an added boost by top dressing the soil with a base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or GrowMore.

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Peter Dance asks...

We have lived in out house for 2.5 years and have a holly tree in the flower border ~ 6.5m high about 4.5m from the house. The tree has shed leaves almost continuously since we moved here. Some, but not all leaves have black spots so there may be some holly blight. The leaves look unsightly on the lawn (and hurt children's bare feet) so we pick these up - leaving those that fall in the border.

1. If I cut the tree down to about 3ft high will it sprout so it can be trained into an attractive bush?
2. Will this prevent the leaf shedding?
3. I am concerned about possible damage to the house (hollies grow to 10m). Will cutting it down prevent such damage?
4. If ok when should I cut the tree back?
5. If I decide to remove the tree I would like to destroy the root system or cut off at ground level. How difficult will it be to dig out the roots?

Thank you.

Bill replies...

With regard to your questions Peter you can prune your Holly Tree back quite hard and it will start to shoot again and the time for pruning is springtime and I am sure that once new shoots appear this help to stop the leaves dropping. With reference to the roots of the Holly Tree damaging the foundations of your house Holly Trees are far less troublesome that trees such as Poplars, Willows and Oaks and pruning your tree back hard will cut down the leaf area and water requirements and also the roots damaging the foundations.  Regarding removing the tree there are products on the market such as Root Out which will kill the tree stump and these products are available at Garden Centres.

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Alistair Copeland asks...

I had no idea about pruning when I was asked to tidy up a garden! I did as was asked and trimmed most of the shrubs down to 6-12 inches from the ground. Unfortunately I did the same with a wild growing holly bush! There are no leaves left and the bush is very mature. Is there anything I can do to ensure it will survive the winter?

Bill replies...

With regard to the Holly Bush Alistair although there are not leaves there is a good chance that it will produce new shoots in the springtime.  Different shrubs need pruning at different times of the year - for example early flowering shrubs which flower on the old wood are pruned back after flowering and it is important to check what species are in the garden before pruning.

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Sue asks...

How close to a house is it advisable to grow a holly tree? We have one very close to the dining room window and is obstructing a lot of light from the 6ft wide window. the tree is nearly as tall as the bedroom window. What is the root system like on a holly tree and could it cause structural damage?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to give you a definitive answer to your question Sue but, if your Holly Tree is growing quite closely to the house subsidence damage caused by the roots can occur.  This usually happens during very dry summers when the roots are searching for any available water.  If you prune back your tree this will cut down water requirements and the risk of subsidence damage occurring.  Compared to other trees - such as Willows - Holly Tree roots are not as vigorous but, if the tree is planted very close to the house problems can occur.

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Janet asks...

I have just bought a female holly - a golden king - and I would like to know what male holly should I buy so I get berries on the female.

Bill replies...

There is a variegated Holly named Golden Queen Janet which believe it or not is a male variety and would be an ideal match for your female Golden King.  Hollies will grow in either a sunny or shady position and will tolerate a range of soils providing the soils are well drained.

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Terry Valiant asks...

Recently moved to a house with a holly hedge at one side. Some of the hedge is about 2m high & some 3-3.5m high with large foliage-less gaps near the ground. If I cut the tall ones back to about 2m will the holly start to grow foliage lower down - or have I just killed it?

Bill replies...

Holly trees can be cut back hard into the main shoots and stems Terry and they will recover and shoot again and you will need to cut the shoots and stems back this month when the sap is just beginning to rise (March).  Through the summer months you will get new shoots sprouting.

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Helen Simcox asks...

I have read all the Holly problems but it doesn't answer my dilemma. I have a holly tree which is about 8 feet and does not produce berries which I do not mind, the problem is that it is casting all its lovely dark green leaves all over the garden and path. It still has plenty leaves left but what is causing this loss? The tree itself looks super healthy

Bill replies...

It is difficult to pin point exactly the reason why your Holly Tree is loosing its leaves Helen but there are a number of factors which could have caused this to happen.  For example if your Holly Tree is growing in poorly drained soil this will cause the leaves to yellow and drop off and they are also prone to hard frost which again can cause leaf loss.  Last year we had a very prolonged hot summer which did cause quite a number of trees to shed some of their leaves.

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Chas asks...

Thanks for all the great advice you give. I have a friend who lives nearby and wants to get rid of two holly bushes/trees which are about 3/4 ft in height. I would like to relocate them to help form a screen at the bottom of my garden. Can I move them in March and is it OK if they are planted in a shaded area?

Bill replies...

Many thanks for your kind words Chas and with reference to your question March would be a good time for transplanting the Holly Trees and, although Holly Trees do not like having their roots disturbed I feel with the trees being only three to four feet high and if you dig out a large root ball of soil they should be fine for transplanting.  The trees will also be fine if planted in a shady area. Over the summer months it is important to ensure that the trees are well watered.

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Lynda Darroch asks...

I have a holly tree which does not produce any berries.  I read somewhere that you have to have another tree with berries planted near by.  If this is the case how near to each other do I need to plant them?  I bought two very small holly trees for indoor decoration this Christmas can I plant them outside and if so when is the best time?

Bill replies...

To produce berries on your Holly Tree Lynda for the majority of species you will need a male and female variety and it is the female tree which will produce the berries.  The problem that you have at the moment is that you do not know if your Holly Tree is male or female and to be 100% certain of success you will need to purchase two Holly Trees one male and one female which can be planted in close proximity to your existing Holly Tree.  The varieties I would recommend are two varigated types: Golden King (which believe it or not is a female variety) and Golden Queen (male variety).

Regarding your two small Holly Trees these need to be kept in a very cool but light position and can be hardened off outside in the Springtime and I would repot them into larger pots before transplanting in the garden.

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Mary Doherty asks...

We have a large Holly bush in our garden. A berry must have fallen off a couple of years ago and has now grown into a eight foot tree, which is covered in berries this year. The problem is it is growing in a lane-way on the other side of the garden. We would like to know when is the best time and way to dig it out and re-plant in the garden.

Bill replies...

I would wait until early Spring time before transplanting your Holly tree Mary.  Hopefully then the worst of the winter weather will be behind us and it is important to ensure you dig out a good root ball of soil when lifting your Holly.  You need to ensure that it is well firmed down and I would also apply a general base fertiliser such a Fish Blood and Bone Meal to the soil.  It is also important that through the summer month your Holly Tree receives an adequate supply of water.  As your Holly Tree is eight feet tall you may get die back of some of the branches which will need to be pruned out.

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Kevin Atkinson asks...

I have a hedge of Ilex blue holly which is about 2 years old, a lot of the stems are turning yellow and the leaves are changing colour. Do you know what the problem could be?  I have been keeping the plants well watered during the summer. Many thanks.

Bill replies...

After reading your question Kevin my immediate conclusion was that your Holly was suffering from over-watering and badly drained soil which will cause yellowing of the leaves and stems.  Another reason why your leaves are turning yellow could be too much lime in the soil (lime chlorosis).  I do however feel that it would be worthwhile to check the PH of your soil to see if it is acid or alkaline.

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Christine Sowerbutts asks...

Another holly question, Bill.  I have a holly tree that's about 20 years old.  Over the last few years it's lost a lot of leaves each summer and now looks bare in the middle.  Some branches are completely nude!  However at the ends of most of the rather thin branches there are glossy, healthy leaves and lots of berries.  Can I cut back those branches in spring, or am I likely to ruin the tree altogether?

Bill replies...

The time to prune your Holly is Springtime Christine but before pruning I would be inclined to wait to see if the bare stems start to produce new leaves.  You write that your Holly looses some of its leaves during the summertime and this year's loss of leaves could quite easily have been caused by the sustained hot weather during July and August.  I do feel that it would be worthwhile during the summer period to give your Holly a good watering, especially if it is growing on a light sandy soil.  Also as a precaution - again in the springtime - I would just cut one of the bare stems with a pair of secateurs and if the stem is still green there is a good chance that it will come into leaf again.

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Mary Joan asks...

I have a very old holly bush that is blocking our view from the sunroom window.  Can I cut it back a couple of feet without hurting it.  If so, when is the right time?

Bill replies...

The time  Mary to prune your Holly Bush Mary is early Spring - just when the sap is beginning to rise - and you will be able to cut it back two feet (making sure that you use a sharp saw) without damaging the Holly Bush.

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Len Banks asks...

I have a holly bush (about 4 ft tall) The berries and leaves are going yellow and falling off, leaving almost a skeleton of a bush. Any suggestions?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what has caused your Holly Tree to drop all its leaves Len but, quite a number of trees and shrubs have suffered this year due to the extreme high summer temperatures and again, especially with Holly Trees it does take quite a while for the leaves to start to yellow and drop off due to drought conditions.  The yellowing and falling off of the leaves could also have been caused by a soil borne fungi disease - such as the Honey Dew Fungi - and it would be worthwhile to check if there are any amber coloured toadstools around your Holly Tree.  The toad stools are one of the signs synonymous with Honey Dew Fungi.  I still feel though that it could be the high temperatures/drought conditions which have caused the leaves to fall.  There is however a good chance that your Holly Tree will come into life again next Spring.

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Rita Clark asks...

My holly bush that was brought from my previous garden is losing leaves that have turned brown, I have fed it with Growmore and kept it well watered. Please can you help?

Bill replies...

It could be the shock of transplanting your Holly Bush which has caused the leaves to brown Rita.  It could also be the very hard and prolonged frost that we had this winter and, what usually happens is the leaves on the Holly will start to drop during the summer months.  There is not much you can do at the moment except to ensure that your Holly Bush is kept well watered and there is no need to apply any further fertiliser.

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Olive Cunningham asks...

I have a holly bush in a large tub, the holly is about 5-6 ft. high It has been in the tub now about three years and doing very well. This summer it was covered in green berries but much to my dismay the berries have either fallen off or just rotted away. I have fed it with a tomato feed and well water it. Can you tell me why this is happening? Thank you.

Bill replies...

Over the past few weeks we have had contrasting weather conditions - the high temperatures and in many areas very heavy thunder storms along with sudden drops in temperatures and it could be these varying weather conditions which have caused the berries to drop off your Holly Bush Olive.  It maybe worth looking at some of the berries to see if there is any fugal growth on them and if so next year it would be wise at the first sign of any fungal disease to spray with a contact fungicide.  I do not know of many instances where fungal growth attacks the berries of the Holly and I would be inclined to put it down to either a sudden check in the growth of your Holly Bush or the contrasting weather conditions - especially if the Holly Bush is looking healthy.

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Tina asks...

I have holly in my garden that I want to get rid of. I have tried to dig it up without success, can you advise me best way to get rid of it?

Bill replies...

You are going to have to eat an extra Wheetabix in the morning Tina to build up your muscles! but on a serious note I sympathise with your problem and it can be very difficult to dig up an established tree and it may be worthwhile to incorporate your tree into a feature in the garden.  For example you could cut the main trunk back to approximately three feet and use the trunk as a bird table or what quite a number of people are doing now is installing bird feeders on the side of the cut down tree.  You could also cover the trunk with a climbing plant such as Clematis Montana.  It is difficult to more explicit Tina without knowing exactly what you want to do with your garden for example - if you want to plant trees and shrubs you will obviously have to remove the Holly completely but if the Holly Tree is just shading your garden as suggested above you can incorporate the cut down trunk as a feature.  If you intend to have the tree cut down by an approved Garden Contractor ensure that their insurance covers any mishaps when the tree is being cut down.

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Shirley Read asks...

Can I move my 10 year old Holly approx 7-8ft tall and 3-4ft spread to my new home in September? The garden is very sheltered. The Holly could be replanted the same day.

Bill replies...

September is quite a good month for transplanting your Holly Tree but it is vitally important to ensure you dig out a good size root ball.  I would also wrap the roots in hesian sacking or similar material to avoid soil loss - keeping the sacking moist would again be beneficial.  A sheltered shady spot will be ideal for your Holly but it is vitally important to ensure your tree is well watered for at least twelve months - if not longer - after transplanting.

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John asks...

I have two holly bushes at the bottom of my garden.  On the boundary of the garden, just behind the trees, is a dry stone wall of a neighbour.  She is concerned that the roots of the bushes could be a threat to the stability of the wall.

Bill replies...

It is difficult to give a concise answer to your question John - for example if you have an established tree too close to a house wall and particularly during the very dry summer this year - the roots will seek moisture from the foundations and also from below the subsoil - which will cause shrinkage and in some cases can cause cracks to appear in the wall.   Regarding your two Holly Bushes - if they are very close to your neighbour's dry stone wall - there is a possibility that it could destabilise part of the wall but like a true politician John I would not like to commit myself one way or another.

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Susan Ainscough asks...

How can I get rid of holly bushes and hawthorn hedges that have taken over the garden?

Bill replies...

It is not going to be easy Susan especially if your Holly and Hawthorn are quite large and well established and what you will have to do is cut the main stems and branches down and the stumps and stems can then be treated with a product called Root Out which will kill the stumps and eventually the roots.  You do need to apply immediately after the stems and branches have been cut down.  Root Out can be applied in a crystal or liquid form but you will need to read the instructions before application.  Root Out can also be used to kill a wide range of perennial weeds and brambles.

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Hope asks...

I was wondering if you can propagate Holly bushes and if so how you would do that? My grandma has two that I would like to take from.

Bill replies...

It is not an easy plant to propagate Hope but, they can be propagated from cuttings taken from the current season's growth.  The cuttings need to be two to three inches long with the bottom leaves removed and these can be placed around the side of a five inch pot in a peat/sharp grit mixture.  After watering the cuttings in well the pots can then be placed in a sheltered spot in the garden or in a cold frame.  The time to take the cuttings is September/October time and these are classed as semi-hardwood cuttings.

last updated: 19/05/2008 at 11:19
created: 08/01/2008

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Holly



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