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Burford Holly: a Low Maintenance Classic 

With over three acres of land and a full time job, I am all about low maintenance gardening. I long ago realized that shrubs give me the most impact for my efforts, and hollies are at the top of the list for ease of care. Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii' is a Chinese holly that has been around a long time. Its favor has waned as trendier garden fashions have come and gone, but I think it deserves new recognition.

Burford holly has glossy, evergreen leaves with pointed tips. One does need to be careful of those sharp tips when pruning! The shrub produces creamy white flowers in spring. The small blooms may not be very noticeable to humans, but the bees love them. I am amazed by the dozens of bees that cover the shrub when it is in bloom, buzzing about and becoming drunk on the nectar.The flowers are followed by bright red berries. The characteristic that first drew me to Burford holly is that, unlike many other hollies, the shrub doesn't require a male pollinator for heavy fruit set.Birds, including robins, cardinals, and sparrows, will eat the berries in late winter after they have softened. Birds also consider Burford holly a choice nesting site.

I lightly prune my Burford holly once a year in December and use the cuttings, laden with berries, for Christmas decorations. Heavier pruning should wait till early spring, right before new growth begins. These shrubs are often pruned into formal shapes or used as hedges, but I have let mine keep its natural form. Interestingly, the branches of my particular plant have something of a weeping habit, which I think is beautiful. A recent photo of Burford holly in my garden

There are two forms of Burford holly, and one should be careful to purchase the best one for the location. The standard Burford holly will grow at least 15 to 20 feet high and wide, and if the lower limbs are removed, it will make an attractive small tree. The dwarf form, which is what I have, will be smaller, 6 to 10 feet in height and width. Note that the dwarf form is still a large shrub. Do not plant it as a foundation shrub in front of a window, as you will hate it when you are constantly having to prune the branches with their sharp, pointy leaves! I have seen dwarf burford holly advertised as a slow grower that will grow to only 2 to 3 feet. This has not been my experience, so it must be a different cultivar. Be sure of what you are getting.

Burford holly will grow in full sun to partial shade in hardiness zones 7-9. It is heat and drought tolerant and pest and disease resistant. Scale insects can sometimes be a problem, producing a black, sooty mold. Fortunately, my plant has never been affected. Though it will adapt to a variety of soil types and pH levels, it likes well drained, acidic soil. I fertilize mine only once a year, in early spring, with an organic fertilizer for acid loving plants.

Low maintenance gardening is first dependent on planting the right plant in the right place. If that rule is followed with Burford holly, it should provide you with years of pleasure, as it has done for me.


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Reader Comments (16)

A nice profile of a very lovely plant. I am all about holly for some reason this year, as I want to plant an American holly (I. opaca) and have been doing lots of research. Yours won't grow for me in zone 5, but it's beautiful and I like seeing in in your naturalistic setting.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Like Laurrie I was all excited about this holly, until I read zone 7-9. I so used to love holly, expecially this time of year when large boxes of them would arrive at the flower store. Certainly miss it...

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah at Kilbourne Grove

A friend of mine has one of these hollies in his garden in PA in borderline zone 6B to 7. It's gorgeous.

There are two things I really like about this beautiful holly. The volume of fruit set is impressive, and stunning on your plant, but that it doesn't require a male pollinator would make the dwarf form great for smaller spaces. I agree, shrubs especially planted where they don't need to be constantly pruned and can grow to their natural shape, can make for a much lower maintenance garden, and they add so much structure to the garden too.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Deb - I love those red berries. I have the regular prickly holly. I always wondered why it didn't grow red berries like on xmas cards, now I know why.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

I love this shrub, and have it in several places in my garden. It's especially nice to look at in winter with its berries, but it's so reliable that I take it for granted during the summer! I agree that shrubs are the best for low maintenance - I need to keep remembering that!

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

What a nice looking shrub! I had wanted a holly, but all the ones I found need a male pollinator. If I ever find a spot again for an evergreen shrub I'll remember this one.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

What a beautiful shrub, must see if we can get it over here as I have just the spot for it. I like the fact that you can share the berries with the birds, they must be really grateful for them in your hard winters.

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Deb is this also deer resistant?

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

a beautiful looking plant that is loved by the birds and bees, I heard/read once that birds like to nest in hollies as the spiky leaves give them some protection from preditors, I wonder if this holly can tolerate strong winds! Frances

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Hi everybody! Burford holly really is a great shrub, and yes, Karen, it is deer resistant. That doesn't mean they won't ever eat it, but they won't enjoy it! As for wind, Frances, all hollies can suffer wind damage from extreme conditions. Burford hollies, however, are often used as wind breaks and are particularly recommended for coastal landscaping, as they are quite tolerant of salt spray. Deborah

December 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Burford Hollies are excellent shrubs ... in the right place. I ended up removing several last spring because I was having to prune the Burfords so heavly to keep them at 3 feet. After I hurt my arm, I decided to edit those plants that I had to work too hard to keep in bounds. The Burfords can take the heavy pruning with ease, but I couldn't anymore. I still have several left, but they are in more shade and don't grow quite as quickly. It is very rare to find standard Burfords anymore. Dwarfs are all I find available, but you are right...they really aren't dwarf. They are touted as 3-footers, but they grow much larger.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterToni - Signature Gardens

thanks for the extra info Deborah, I did a search for the Burfold Holly and most sites that came up were in the usa, I then added uk to my search and got people and places that contain these words including peole called Holly Burfold ;o) I did find one nurery in the uk selling it so not orderingnow but will look into it further nearer spring, I do have 3 common Holly plants that have grown slowly but so far I have never seen a flower on any of them, Frances

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Hi Deb, This is a very timely plant profile. I have always wanted a holly for winter interest. I like the fact that you don't need a male and female in this instance. The size gives me pause. Where could I fit in a shrub that could reach 6 to 10 feet in height and width? I must mull this over and see if I can squeeze one in, because I love those red berries and the birds they will attract.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Beautiful shrub and beautiful post. I love the idea of incorporating winter's bounty in our indoor decorations. Enjoy the holidays.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNitty Gritty Dirt Man

That is a lovely shrub, with a heavy berry set! I agree that for low maintenace shrubs are the way to go. I especially agree after spending too much time watering annuals and perennials this past summer.

December 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay
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