Holly Shrubs For Zone 5: Growing Holly Plants In Zone 5

By: Teo Spengler

Holly is an attractive evergreen tree or shrub with shiny leaves and bright berries. There are many species of holly (Ilex ssp.) including the popular ornamentals Chinese holly, English holly, and Japanese holly. Unfortunately, for those who live in chilly zone 5, few of these are hardy holly varieties. Read on for information about choosing holly shrubs for zone 5.

Hardy Holly Varieties

You’ll find over 400 species of holly in the world. Many are broadleaf evergreens and offer glossy leaves and bright, bird-pleasing berries. The species range in zone, shape, and cold hardiness. Hollies are not demanding or difficult plants to grow. However, before you start growing holly plants in zone 5, you’ll want to check their cold hardiness.

Chinese, English, and Japanese holly shrubs are not hardy holly varieties. None of these popular plants could be used as zone 5 holly shrubs since none survive zone 5 winters, which can get between -10 and -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 to -29 C.). These species are sometimes hardy to zone 6, but cannot survive the temperatures in zone 5. So are there holly varieties for those residing in zone 5? Yes, there are. Consider American holly, a native plant, and the blue hollies, also known as the Meserve hollies.

Holly Shrubs for Zone 5

The following holly shrubs are recommended for growing in zone 5 landscapes:

American Holly

American holly (Ilex opaca) is a plant native to this country. It matures into a lovely pyramid-shaped tree that grows to 50 feet (15 m.) tall with a 40 foot (12 m.) spread. This type of holly thrives in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.

Growing the shrub in zone 5 is possible if you plant American holly and site it where it receives four hours or more of direct, unfiltered sunshine per day. This holly shrub needs soil that is acidic, rich, and well-drained.

Blue Hollies

Blue hollies are also known as Meserve hollies (Ilex x meserveae). They are holly hybrids developed by Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve of St. James, New York. She produced these hollies by crossing prostrate holly (Ilex rugosa) – a cold hardy variety – with English holly (Ilex aquifolium).

These evergreen shrubs are more cold tolerant than many types of holly. They have leathery dark blue-green leaves with spines like English holly leaves. Growing these plants in zone 5 is easy. Plant the cold hardy holly shrubs in well-drained, moist soil. Choose a location where they will get some shade in summer.

If you are looking for zone 5 holly shrubs in this group, consider the blue holly cultivars ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’. They are the most cold hardy of the series. Other Meserve hybrids that can serve the landscape well include China Boy and China Girl.

Don’t expect rapid growth when you are planting Meserve hollies. They will get to about 10 feet (3 m.) tall in time, but it will take them quite a few years.

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'Blue Princess' Holly (lIex x meserveae 'Blue Princess')

Ed Reschke / Photolibrary / Getty Images

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Ed Reschke / Photolibrary / Getty Images

'Blue Princess' is not so much blue, as a dark green with a bluish cast. The female clone of lIex x meserveae is a 3- to 12-foot shrub with the familiar glossy, toothed leaves common to most hollies. It has red berries that make for winter interest, provided you can keep the wild birds from eating them. Along with the plants' attractive foliage, these red berries make the plant sufficiently pleasing to the eye to warrant using it as a specimen plant. To ensure berry production, provide a 'Blue Prince' as a pollinator.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
  • Color Varieties: Dark green foliage with bluish overtones red berries
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic

Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), hardy from USDA zone 7 through zone 9 qualifies as a tall shrub or small tree, growing 10 to 20 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide. Yaupon’s spineless, evergreen oval leaves provide a gray-green background to fragrant white flowers in April and thick bunches of red berries in fall. Native to the southeastern U.S. and Mexico, yaupon holly has established its niche in wetland locations such as coastal marshes and maritime forests. A dwarf cultivar, “Nana,” hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10, grows only 3 to 5 feet tall but spreads to 6 feet wide and is salt-tolerant.

Foster’s holly (Ilex attenuate “”Fosteri”) is the name given to several hybrids, hardy from USDA zone 6 to 9, developed at Bessemer Alabama’s Foster Nursery. Although the plants are basically dioecious, female plants can produce berries without male pollinators. Foster hollies grow as large shrubs or small trees, from 20 to 30 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide. Their branches bear thorns, making them good candidates for hedges.


There are many ways to incorporate holly into your landscape. Here’s how:

  • Combine a small or medium-sized evergreen type with other evergreen shrubs along the front of your home. Decorate the shrubs with holiday lights for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.
  • Place a colorful ceramic container near your home’s entryway and plant with a smaller specimen. Add decorations and small twinkling lights for a festive look.
  • Plant a dwarf type as a hedge along a pathway and keep it sheared to create formal structure in transition areas.
  • Naturalize evergreen or deciduous forms with especially showy berries in a woodland border that can be enjoyed from a cozy window inside your home. Add other plants with winter interest such as witch hazel and hellebores for an inspiring view that will help stave off the winter blues.
  • Mass a dwarf or groundcover type along a bank or slope for erosion control.
  • If you plan on regularly using the berries and branches for holiday decorating, make sure that plants are easily accessible for harvesting. Choose a site close to your home or driveway that won’t be blocked by snow.

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