Yaupon holly, bring the grand old South to your garden

Yaupon holly, also simply called “yaupon“, is a shrub that has been planted in homes along the Gulf of Mexico and the lower Atlantic coast. 

Yaupon Holly key facts

Name – Ilex vomitoria
Family – Ilex (holly)
Type – evergreen

Exposure – part sun or full
Soil – either wet or dry
Height – 3 or 4 up to 30 feet
(1 to 10 meters, depends on type)

Yaupon holly is a fabulous berry shrub that will attract birds to your garden. They will thank you with pleasant singsong from October to March!

How to plant yaupon holly

Yaupon holly is very easy to plant. In spring (or fall as a second choice):

  • No special amendment is needed, even in poor, sandy soil.
  • Dig a hole about twice the size of the yaupon holly root clump.
  • Spread the roots out along the bottom (delicately if possible) and backfill with garden soil.

In very heavy soils that are always wet, you might want to ensure drainage with either gravel or clay pebbles along the bottom of the hole, but that’s only in extreme cases when the soil is constantly waterlogged.

For different purposes, it’s best to select the right type of yaupon holly – it will reduce maintenance.

Planting yaupon holly in a pot

  • Dwarf yaupon holly is best. There are several varieties to choose from.
  • As long as drainage is ensured, any container will do.
  • Yaupon holly is regularly grown as a bonsai, it’s easy as long as you don’t let it dry out!

Planting yaupon holly in a hedge or shrub bed

Caring for yaupon holly

Yaupon holly doesn’t require much care at all, especially when it’s planted in full earth.

  • As for many newly planted shrubs, water your yaupon holly during the first year.
  • After that, heat waves are the only time you’ll need to water it.

Planted in pots, a yaupon holly needs repotting every three years at most (two is best to replenish soil nutrients). Fertilize in the second and third year with normal shrub fertilizer. Avoid fertilizer that contains too much nitrogen, since it might burn the roots.

  • Yaupon holly berries attract birds – take note not to let a colony settle down in a single tree! The birds might lead to nitrogen poisoning on the tree!

Trimming yaupon holly and pruning it

Growth is slow on yaupon holly, somewhat similar to that of boxwood.

  • Prune once a year in spring if growing it in a pot on a terrace or patio.
  • If planted in the ground, it’s enough to trim your yaupon holly every two years.

Like boxwood, yaupon holly can be trimmed into nice topiary forms, especially the dwarf yaupon varieties.

How to prune yaupon holly into topiary shapes

  • If you’re aiming for topiary shapes with yaupon holly, prune twice a year.
  • Spring is when you shape the yaupon holly most
  • Early fall is simply a light trimming to keep a nice shape over winter.

Multiplying and propagating yaupon holly

Yaupon holly easily spreads naturally, but you can also propagate your favorite shrub yourself.

Yaupon holly seeds

It’s always a bet whether the seed you’ll grow will closely resemble the variety that produced it. Indeed, yaupon holly can cross-pollinate among many of its varieties, both dwarf and tall, weeping or straight.

Simply sow in a nursery, then transplant the seedling when it has grown large enough. No need to worry about transplant shock, yaupon holly is very resilient.

Yaupon holly root shoots

Yaupon will send up shoots from roots, wherever they’re uncovered or when the main trunk is very vigorous.

Once a shoot is about a foot tall, you can sever the root with a sharp spade and transplant the clump either to a pot or to a new location.

Yaupon holly cuttings

  • In fall, select 8-inch (15 cm) cuttings from semi-hardened yaupon holly wood (grown since spring).
  • Remove all leaves except for a few at the tip.
  • If you’ve got rooting hormone, you can dip the cuttings in it. Try Aloe vera for that.
  • Plant the cuttings in a mix of sand and soil mix.
  • Roots should start developing within two to three months.

Grafting yaupon holly

If ever you’ve nurtured a yaupon holly from seed, and it turns out to be male, you won’t get any berries from it. You don’t need to pull it out entirely – make the best of the already strong root system and graft it with a female branch!

Yaupon holly pests and diseases

Yaupon holly forms dense thickets.Berries on yaupon are either bright red or bright yellow, so they’re like a beacon for birds and deer. And, truth be said, that’s about all the trouble you’ll encounter with yaupon holly.

It’s highly resistant to disease. Only extreme weather will weaken it to the point of letting fungus in. If that is the case, you may have to fend off black spot, powdery mildew, and whitefly insects.

It bounces back in no time even after drastic hat rack pruning.

All in all, you’ll never worry about how to save your yaupon holly. And if you’re growing a dwarf variety, you won’t even need to think about it at all for years on end!

Types of yaupon holly

Two types of yaupon holly can easily be found in garden stores, these are either “dwarf yaupon” or regular yaupon.

  • Dwarf yaupon grow slowly and are well suited to growing in containers, pots, and to form low hedges or edges in shrub beds.
  • Regular yaupon can be trimmed somewhat to form taller hedges, but generally they’re best either as a standalone to a side of the lawn or as a natural, free-growing hedge towards the edge of a property.

Here are a few yaupon holly cultivars or varieties

Learn more about yaupon holly

All the varieties of yaupon holly have small, shiny, rich green leaves. Their oval shape and slight round-toothed edge make them a favorite to weave Christmas wreaths. Bright red or yellow yaupon holly berries match the season well, too! Pair arrangements together with regular holly for a great combination.

Smart tip about yaupon holly

Yaupon holly tends to grow several trunks at once, like lilac. Select one and cut all others away to help it grow like a tree!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Yaupon holly berries by David Montgomery under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Yaupon holly thicket by Michael Gras under © CC BY 2.0