Ask Dr. Phipps: Holly Care
Q: I have some small Blue Princess and Prince holly berry bushes that I would like to prevent from reaching their eventual 8 to 10 foot wingspan. I was wondering if I maybe trim the lower branches and bind them with cord if it will prevent them from expanding. Or, if I cut off the lower branches and bind the stem with duct tape, could I prevent lower ones from growing at all? I'm trying to keep them as maintenance free as possible.
A: You might find this website article very helpful. Note that you should never remove the lower branches of a holly. That does not mean that you cannot trim them. Just do not remove them (unless of course they are diseased or damaged).
The dead of winter is always the best time to trim/shape most shrubs and trees because the plants are dormant and are not as susceptible to disease, pests, or problems. Make sure that you sanitize your pruners with rubbing alcohol so that you do not spread disease from one shrub/tree to another. Do this by pouring rubbing alcohol over your pruner blades or whipping the blades with rubbing alcohol both before and again after you prune. Allow the pruner blades to dry before using them to prune.
One key rule of thumb is that you should only trim off UP TO 1/3 of the total shrub/tree at any given time. More than that may put the shrub/tree into shock.
I would not suggest ever using duct tape on shrubs or trees. Removal of the tape may damage the bark and cause problems. If you want to very carefully put some form of support (roping or light netting) around the lower branches to lightly hold them up and help keep them from breaking during heavy snows, you could try that. But make sure to remove that support come spring.
This is a very extensive article should you want more detailed information on care of hollies.
You are wanting low maintenance, so if all of this pruning sounds like too much, you can also hire a Phipps Sustainable Landcare Accredited professional to skillfully do the work for you.