Japanese Holly Hedging

The Japanese holly or ilex crenata does not resemble most other holly species, as it does not have the typical spiny leaves usually associated with the genus. Instead, it has tiny, rounded leaves, which strongly resemble those of box. In fact, Japanese holly hedges are often used as a substitute for box hedges, as it is not susceptible to the so-called box blight, a kind of fungus that has become a growing concern to gardeners with box hedges in recent years. The Japanese holly provides you with the opportunity to plant a hedge with the appearance of a box hedge with no risk of the disease so dangerous to box plants, essentially making Japanese holly a stronger alternative to box.

Ilex crenata is not yet widely known in the UK and consequently not particularly common in our gardens, but it has rapidly increased in popularity among British garden enthusiasts once box blight began to affect gardens all across Europe and the UK. Japanese holly has the same basic qualities and appearance as box. Not only does its foliage look strikingly similar, it also has a compact, slow growth habit, which makes the Japanese holly similarly suitable for topiary purposes. Especially the most common variety, the shiny green ilex crenata ‘Convexa’, is ideal for topiary, but other varieties may also be used for this purpose. As the Japanese holly is an evergreen hedging plant, they will also make excellent border hedges.

Benefits of Japanese Holly Hedging

As its name already makes clear, Japanese holly originates from East Asia. It is not only native to Japan, however, but also to China, Taiwan, Korea and the island of Sakhalin, near the east coast of Russia. In those regions, it has been grown as a topiary specimen for centuries. It is a highly popular plant among bonsai enthusiasts, but has become more common in our part of the world as well, due to its similarity to box varieties. If you look closely, it is easy to distinguish a Japanese holly hedge from a box hedge, as Japanese holly has an alternate rather than an opposite leaf arrangement. In addition, Japanese holly is significantly more hardy than box, being able to withstand very harsh winters.

This charming hedge plant is excellent for borders and small gardens, as Japanese holly has a growth habit that is small, compact and slim. Light coloured new growth will transform to a handsome dark green within two months, which creates a beautiful contrast between older and younger leaves. It bears inconspicuous white flowers in the spring, which are followed by dark berries in the autumn. It is important to note, however, that these berries cannot be eaten by humans. Eating small amounts will not be fatal, but will certainly cause severe gastrointestinal distress. These fruits are highly attractive to birds, however, as they are an important food source for them, after several periods of frost have softened both the taste and the structure of the berries.

Maintaining a Japanese Holly Hedge

Once established, a Japanese holly hedge will last for more than a lifetime, as it can reach an age of up to 100 years. It is also a very easy plant to maintain, as all it requires are one or two clippings annually. It is very easily trimmed and since it is a slow grower, it will do well without regular clippings. Another option is to just let it grow, which will create a more informal hedge. However, it is often planted for topiary purposes or because it makes an excellent low, formal hedge. It can grow up to 2 metres in height if desired though. It may take some time before it will reach this height however, because even the fastest growing varieties do not grow more than 35 to 40 centimetres per year.

A Japanese holly hedge is happy growing on most well-drained soil types, though they prefer a somewhat acidic soil type. It helps if you water your hedge periodically in order to keep the soil sufficiently moist. Be careful with soils with a high pH level, as Japanese hollies are known to develop iron deficiency in such a soil type. It is less picky when it comes to its position, as it can be planted in the sun, but it will also tolerate shade. A slow-release fertiliser can be used, but is not required. This hedge plant will even do well in exceptionally cold areas, as it will tolerate lower temperatures than are common in the UK.

Japanese Holly Border Hedges

Due to the unfortunate arrival of box blight, many botanists and garden enthusiasts have been looking for a suitable alternative for the classic box hedge. There are no better alternatives than Japanese holly hedges. The species combines the classic appearance of a box hedge with a resistance to the disease that many box hedges have suffered from in recent years. Just like box hedges, Japanese holly hedges lend themselves perfectly for topiary purposes, due to their relatively slow growth rate. But they also make excellent low border hedges. Japanese holly hedges will certainly add a classic elegance to your garden.

In addition, Japanese holly hedges are not picky when it comes to soil types or planting positions and do not require a lot of maintenance. If you give your Japanese holly hedge the little attention that it needs, it will remain loyal to you for a lifetime. Regardless of whether you use the species as a low border hedge or a topiary specimen.

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