How To Fertilize And Water A Holly Tree

Holly trees are exceptionally easy to grow and care for. 

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know regarding how to feed and water holly trees like the pros...

Fertilizing A Holly Tree

Holly trees will benefit from fertilization. 

When to fertilize a Holly tree?

I fertilize my Holly trees in late winter or very early spring.

What type of fertilizer?

  When feeding my Holly trees, I use a slow-release shrub and tree fertilizer that contains iron and sulfur at rates recommended on the product label. Alternatively, you can feed with mild, organic plant food. 

To conserve moisture throughout the growing season and suppress weed growth, I also always apply a 1 to 2" layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around holly trees in late winter. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your trees will appreciate.

Note:  Avoid the use of freshly chipped wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot. 

How much fertilizer? 

This will depend of course on the size of the holly tree you are fertilizing and the type of fertilizer. Regarding slow-release shrub and tree fertilizers, you'll find application instructions on the package label. 

Where to spread the fertilizer? 

The root system of a holly tree might grow 2 feet deep but the majority of the feeder roots responsible for absorbing nutrients are in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. Spreading fertilizer on the soil surface is sufficient to reach these feeder roots. 

Spread fertilizer evenly around each tree, beginning a couple feet from its trunk, and then one foot beyond the drip line (branch perimeter) for every 5 feet in tree height. 

Note:  If the soil is compacted or subject to excessive water runoff, the fertilizer can be applied in a series of holes 6 to 8 inches deep in the same area with about five holes per 1 inch of trunk diameter.

Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. 

Holly trees prefer an acid to neutral soil ranging from 5.0 to 7.0 on the pH scale. Once you know the soil pH, if necessary, you can adjust it to meet the needs of your tree.

Testing Soil pH

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing holly trees, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with a inexpensive soil test kit or pH tester probe. 

To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

How To Water A Holly Tree

Most holly tree varieties prefer a moist but well-drained soil. That said, when established they are more tolerant of dry or wet periods. 

Here's some helpful watering tips...

Summer Watering

At planting time

Water deeply at planting time, making sure the soil around the root ball and the root ball itself is moist all the way down to its base. Then, each day thereafter, check the soil moisture and only provide water if the soil has dried out somewhat or is just lightly damp. After several days of checking soil moisture you should establish how many days you can wait between waterings. Now you'll have a watering schedule. If there's a good soaking rain you can count this as a watering.

Note:  Before removing your holly tree from it's nursery pot for planting it is beneficial to soak the root ball.

During the first growing season

After planting a holly tree in the ground, especially during the hotter summer months, the tendency is to think it has to be watered every day in order to grow roots and become established in its new home. However, in average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted holly tree every day. More often than not, this causes constantly wet soil conditions that can lead to root rot. In the absence of sufficient rainfall water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. 

Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water around the tree every day. Deep soaking promotes deep root growth and can reduce water loss by evaporation. 


When established, Holly trees are quite drought tolerant. I rarely water mine except to provide an occasional deep soaking in an extended summer drought. If during a drought new leaves wilt or mature leaves start to drop this is an indicator your tree could use a good deep soaking. 

Winter Watering

During the cooler winter months holly trees won't require as much attention to watering. Provide water only if necessary to keep the soil damp.

At planting time

When planted during the winter, deep soak the soil and the root ball after planting. Then check the soil moisture every few days until you've determined how many days or weeks go by until the soil has dried and water is needed. With average rainfall you may not need to water trees again until spring or summer.

Note:  If you have an automated irrigation system it's best to cut it off during the winter, only running it manually on occasion and only when and if necessary. Provide water during the winter only if there's been a prolonged period of dry weather.

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