House Grail is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How & When to Prune Holly Bushes: 5 Expert Tips

American Holly

Holly bushes have beautiful green foliage with colorful berries that make an excellent addition to any landscape. Using the snips from the holly plant for indoor holiday decor is a bonus to this attractive outdoor shrub.

And, yes, it is okay to prune your holly plant during the winter months, but it may not be ideal or necessary at all. If you do want or need to prune your holly bush, here are five tips on how and when to do it.

divider 7

The 5 Tips on How and When to Prune Holly Bushes

1. To Induce the Production of Fruit or Flowers

To ensure the production of flowers and berries on your holly bush, it should be pruned in late winter. Once the cold temperatures have ceased, but before the new spring growth appears, that’s the time to prune the holly bush. The spring flowers on the bush will eventually turn into colored berries in the fall.

Once the bush is finished flowering, pruning will eliminate or reduce the number of berries in the fall.

2. To Control the Shape and Growth

To keep your holly bush looking trim and shapely, cut off up to one-third of the overall plant or remove any new growth.

The lower branches of the holly bush should not be cut shorter than the top branches. If you prune the branches on the lower part of the bush, so they are shorter than the upper part of the bush, the sunlight will be blocked, and the plant will suffer.

For a holly bush that may have been neglected and is overgrown, you can implement severe pruning. Trim the plant to the ground, and you will get beautiful new growth in its place.

American Holly
Image By: TanteLoe, Pixabay

3. To Keep It Healthy

To keep your holly bush healthy and disease free, be sure to cut the plant correctly. Cuts should not be made randomly in the middle of a twig or branch. Cuts should be made at an angle and above the side buds. Making the cuts at an angle allows water to drain from the cuts.

If you do not angle the cuts, it will prolong the healing process and put the plant at risk of disease and insects. It is also important to remember to clean and disinfect your pruning tools to avoid spreading disease to other plants.

4. To Change the Appearance

If your holly bush is beginning to look dead and damaged, it may be time to do a good pruning of the plant. Start by removing dead, diseased, and damaged branches. Next, cut off any parts sticking out or interfering with other branches. Remove the ones that are spoiling the appearance of the bush.

Unless your holly bush is overgrown and unhealthy-looking, it is not advisable to prune it back to the ground.

If your plant has an undesirable appearance and you want to rejuvenate it, you can try cutting it all the way back to the ground, however.

pruning fruit tree with pruning shears
Image Credit: ueuaphoto, Shutterstock

5. Prune to Decorate for the Holidays

Decorating indoors with fresh, live holly branches filled with lush red berries is such a holiday treat. After all, it’s part of the joy of having a holly bush in your landscape.

If you have a holly bush that is covered with red berries during the holidays, you can choose to leave the berries outside on the bush to add to the beauty of your outdoor decorations, or you can prune the bush and use the trimmings to add to your home décor.

If you want to keep a strong display of the holly berries outdoors, it is recommended to prune the shrub in the late winter. The best time to do this is between January and May. Depending on your zone, plan to prune the bush four to six weeks before the spring thaw.

divider 5

When to Prune Holly

Although holly bushes can manage being pruned in the winter, when they are dormant, the best time of year to prune your holly is before the summer months. Pruning your holly in the winter is not ideal and can be risky.

Winter Pruning

Winter pruning is safe for holly bushes. In fact, it can help to rejuvenate a neglected or damaged plant. Pruning in the winter is especially beneficial for deciduous holly bushes that may be overgrown, too.

Also, winter pruning may be the better option to prevent the loss of new growth from frost and limit the vulnerability to diseases.

divider 4


While it is not necessary to prune a holly bush, doing so will help to keep the plant free from dead and diseased branches. How and when you choose to prune your holly bush can determine the flower and berry production, however. So, whether you want clippings for the holiday or you are pruning the plant to keep its shape, doing it properly will keep your holly looking well-groomed and healthy.

Featured Image Credit: damann, Shutterstock


Related posts

OUR categories

Project ideas

Hand & power tools