Holly Leaf Cherry Provides Dark Green Foliage With Little to No Irrigation

via Apple.

Native to California, the holly leaf cherry is a tough shrub to small tree that provides dense evergreen foliage, food for birds, shade, and depending on the location, privacy.


The slight stick with a few leaves to the left is the holly leaf cherry the first year I planted it.

Prunus Ilicifolius Walp.

This photo of the same plant was taken on March 22, 2016.

Prunus illicifolia - Cherry native to California washes and gullies

Holly leaf cherry forms a dense shrub with dark glossy green leaves that provide foliage year round.

My first attempt to grow holly leaf cherry didn’t turn out so well.

I expected too much of a little plant that started out in a pot.  Simply put, I didn’t water it when it was newly transplanted.

So, I tried again. This time I watered during the establishment period.

The second time around, I watered daily for a few weeks to give the roots a chance to recover from transplanting.  After a month, I started watering every other day. The third month, I watered every three days and so on. I gradually tapered down the irrigation frequency until the first rainy season came.  As the frequency of water dropped, I increased the volume of water that I applied.  The idea was to encourage the tree’s roots to chase water that is deeper in the soil. The second year, I checked the leaves of the holly in the summer and then again when the Santa Ana Winds blew. If the leaves felt cool to the touch, I didn’t water.  If the leaves felt hot, I watered.  That second summer, I watered about once a month.  By last summer, the only time the tree got irrigation water was if I wanted to wash my car.  I parked the car nearby, and the cherry tree shared the rinse water with my incense cedar.  This happened a couple times last summer.  Other than that, the holly leafed cherry grew solely on rainwater stored in the soil.

Rainwater stored in the soil surrounding the holly leaf cherry is protected from evaporation by a plastic sheet covered with rocks.  The plastic sheet was installed before I moved in.  When higher priority projects are done, I intend to replace the sheeting with a deeper layer of rocks and wood chips with pine needles.

The holly cherry grew slowly at first.  In the desert this can be a good thing.

Plants that grow quickly tend to have large cells that are relatively weak. The wind can really blow out here.  Plants that grow  quickly split in the wind and get torn apart. This is a good argument for keeping irrigation water and fertilization to a minimum. By growing slowly, the cherry developed a denser wood in its branches and developed deeper roots. As a result, it will be better able to withstand strong winds and drought.

Pruning was largely limited to snipping terminal buds to encourage branching.

I expect that the holly leaf cherry will need very little pruning for the rest of it’s life. Typically this slow growing cherry will reach a height of 10 to fifteen feet.  It can easily attain a diameter of about eight feet. With extra water and nutrients, it might get larger. This tough plant will grow to be either a tall shrub or short tree that maintains its leaves year round.  I am counting on it to protect my home from the howling Mojave winds, provide some shade to the walls of my house, and a little privacy to my front porch.  Eventually I hope that it will produce flowers and fruits for the birds.

Now that I know that holly leafed cherry can be established here, I am considering getting a few more for places where I would like to establish a privacy screen.

Where I bought my plant

I got my plant at UC Riverside Botanical Garden Plant Sale. Holly leaf cherry can also be purchased from nurseries that specialize in native plants.






About Caliche Chick

I retired from a career as an Environmental Scientist and Botanist. My first career was teaching science and English as a Second Language (ESL), and content classes for ESL students at the middle school level. I also taught introductory biology at the community college level. I have an avid interest in plants that grow with little to no irrigation. I also keep a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and back yard chickens. When I am not in my yard, I am taking Construction Technology Classes at Victor Valley College and working on my "fixer upper" home.
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