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Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata)



Authors as Published

Alex X. Niemiera, Professor, School of Plant and Environmental Science, Virginia Tech (first published May 2009, last reviewed March 2024)


Foliage: Evergreen broadleaf

Height: 2 to 10 feet (depending on cultivar) Spread: 2 to 10 feet (depending on cultivar)

Shape: Upright or low mound (depending on cultivar)

There are numerous cultivars of Japanese holly. Many are compact, mounded forms with small, spineless, dark-green leaves and black fruit. They are primarily used in mass for borders, backgrounds, and foundation plants.

Plant Needs:

Zone: 6b to 8 (most, there are a few 6a cultivars)

Moisture: Moist to dry

pH Range: 3.7 to 6.8

Light: Partial shade to full sun

Soil Type: Sandy, loam, or clay


Suggested uses for this plant include border, foundation, hedge and massing.

Planting Notes:

Make sure the cultivar you have selected is cold hardy in your area.


Tolerates severe pruning.

Mulch to protect tender roots from freezing injury.


Damage to plant from spider mites in hot, dry locations can be serious. Scale and nematodes are a problem in sandy soils.


Consult local garden centers, historic or public gardens and arboreta regarding cultivars and related species that grow well in your area.

Cultivars of Ilex crenata:

  • Convexa' has dark-green, convex leaves. One of the hardiest forms, but is a heavy fruit producer. May reach 9 feet tall and 24 feet wide.
  • 'Helleri' is a compact form that reaches 4 feet at maturity.
  • 'Hetzii' a dwarf form of `Convexa'. Grows 8+ feet in height.
  • 'Roundleaf' is a male selection that does not produce berries. It is more subject to winter injury. Will grow 5 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 12 feet wide.
  • 'Soft Touch’ forms a 3 foot tall mound with pliable branches.

There are over 60 cultivars of Japanese holly with variations in size, form, & foliage characteristics.


Japanese holly is a versatile evergreen shrub with varied uses depending on the cultivar. Select cultivar with a mature height and cold hardiness that is appropriate to location to avoid the need for frequent pruning and low temperature damage, respectively.

This material was developed by Carol Ness as part of the Interactive Design and Development Project funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

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Publication Date

March 6, 2024