Will Ilex Glabra Grow In Shade? (A Beginner’s Guide)

Can Ilex glabra grow in shade?

Will Ilex Glabra Grow In Shade | Plant Gardener

The answer is most certainly yes since the only requirement for the growth of Ilex glabra is light. 

However, if you are looking to create a shady spot in your garden or find that there are already areas that do not get enough bright sunlight, it would be beneficial to consider other plant options for this area. 

This also means that when buying an Ilex glabra tree, make sure it will have enough room to thrive in the area you plan on planting it in. 

If there are many large trees in an area, they may block out all light from ever reaching the undergrowth.

This does not mean that new trees cannot be grown in shady areas, but rather you need to find more suitable plant species for this environment. 

It is also possible that the shade may be of a temporary nature, e.g. winter shade or morning sun only, so it would be worth considering whether or not Ilex glabra will grow in partially shaded areas too.

What is Ilex Glabra?

Ilex glabra or Inkberry is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that is considered a flowering plant by some classifications because it produces small white flowers during late spring. 

It also produces black fruit which birds love, apparently making up about 25 percent of their diets. This is why this plant has been used successfully as a wildlife food plot crop.

These plants prefer acidic soils with a pH between 4.0 and 6.5, but they will grow in conditions that are not ideal although growth may be stunted or reduced in size. 

They prefer moist soils with high organic content but do not like to be soggy. These plants can tolerate full sun to partial shade but will need at least four hours of sunlight each day for the best production results.

Large specimens in sunny locations make an excellent hedge or screen plant while smaller varieties can be grown in pots for use as patio plants or even indoor low-light houseplants during winter months. 

The Inkberry is cold hardy through USDA growing zones 7 and above and tolerates hot summer temperatures well, making it a versatile landscaping choice throughout much of the United States.

How to Grow Ilex glabra

Ilex glabra plants are a great choice for a native evergreen hedge plant because this holly does not have prickly leaves, grows fast, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. 

Additionally, the berries produced by the female plants provide edible treats for wildlife and people alike. Learn how to grow Ilex glabra in your garden as well as how to care for it as an indoor houseplant.

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How to Grow Ilex glabra as an Indoor Houseplant

In addition to being used as a natural barrier or border element in the landscape, the glossy green leaves of this species also make it easy to grow indoors as a houseplant. The first step is finding a healthy specimen at your local garden center. 

Carefully remove the plant from its container and examine the root ball before purchasing it; these plants do not like to be over-watered, so make sure there is no accumulation of dark wet soil around its roots or that rotting has begun. 

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If you can, put your finger in the dirt up to your first knuckle, if it feels dry this plant should be fine for a while longer in its current potting mix.

After bringing your new Ilex glabra home add a layer of pebbles to the base of the container and fill with fresh potting soil mixed with at least 30% perlite. Peperomia obtusfolia works well as a houseplant companion for this species because it stays small and does not require high humidity.

Peperomia obtusfolia plant with Ilex glabra in the background

Water the plant only when the soil feels dry, then use a wick or gentle stream of water from a garden hose to thoroughly moisten the root ball without causing runoff. 

The leaves will drop after planting as this holly adjusts to its new growing conditions; do not be alarmed by this normal process. 

Once your houseplant is acclimated, place it where it will receive bright indirect sunlight for most of the day (a few hours of sun per day should be okay), and avoid any drafty areas like doorways or open windows that bring cold air into your home. 

Water weekly until the soil is completely moist, then allow it to dry out before watering again.

In the spring after new growth begins it will be time to fertilize your Ilex glabra houseplant with a slow-release granular fertilizer or a liquid foliage plant food. 

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Apply according to package directions and do not increase or decrease dosage because this holly does not need much nitrogen. 

Pruning should only be necessary if your plant starts growing too large for its container, otherwise, regular pinching back of new shoots will help this evergreen maintain its naturally compact size indoors.

How to Grow Ilex glabra as a Native Landscape Plant

Ilex glabra is a member of the holly family, so it’s no surprise that this plant looks great as an evergreen border element in the garden. Its dark green glossy leaves are attractive during all seasons, but especially nice in winter with snow on them. 

This native holly grows quickly to form dense screens that are very effective for blocking out unwanted views or for creating privacy between spaces. 

If you want to grow Ilex glabra as a natural barrier simply buy two plants of the same size and space them several feet apart, it will eventually create a dense hedgerow. 

You can also plant multiple smaller-sized specimens close together if you want the look of a solid wall of shiny green leaves. 

Keep in mind that this species does not have spiny or prickly leaves, so it’s actually a perfect choice for those with young children who regularly play in the backyard.


How to Grow Ilex glabra as a Wildlife Plant

One of the best things about growing native plants is how they greatly boost local wildlife populations. 

All hollies are attractive sources of fruit for birds and other creatures, but Ilex glabra berries are particularly favored by gray squirrels, foxes, deer, and white-tailed deer. 

These animals will go out of their way to seek out its small red fruits during late fall and early winter when very little else is available from other plant sources. 

In return the many that pass through their digestive tracts spread this holly’s seed far and wide throughout its native range, aiding in its survival despite the loss of habitat.

How to Grow Ilex glabra around the Home

Ilex glabra is also sometimes used as foundation plantings or foundation shrubs because it does not grow too large for small spaces. It can be pruned into many different shapes but should not require frequent chopping back unless you want an unusually dense hedgerow. 

Occasionally leaves may turn red-purple during winter, but if desired you can simply spruce it up by adding some evergreen fertilizer to aid in color retention. 

Over time this species will become pot-bound and need replacement so be sure to save your old plants once they start looking grungy and replace them with new ones on a regular basis.

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How to Grow Ilex glabra as a Houseplant

Ilex glabra is also one of those rare hollies that can be grown as a houseplant if desired (just don’t expect it to be fruit indoors). Although its growth rate will slow down some, this evergreen plant will grow just fine in containers indoors with indirect sunlight for at least half the day. 

It’s important however to avoid any drafty areas for your Ilex glabra houseplant, cold air from doorways or open windows can adversely affect its health by browning leaves and reducing plant vigor. 

Water lightly once a week until the top inch of soil is moist, then allow the top inch to dry out before watering again. It’s also a good idea to mist this holly with water once or twice a month as an added humidity boost for those without humidifiers in their homes.

How to Grow Ilex glabra from Seed

If you want more than one of these plants all you need is patience and the right timing, you can actually grow them yourself from seed! Pick ripe berries off the plant after they turn bright red and let them dry out on paper towels indoors until wintertime (frost-free months). 

Once berries are completely dried, store them inside sealed bags (and keep them in a cool dry place) until early wintertime when you can plant them in small peat pots of moist seed starting mix. 

Keep them warm (near a heat vent or on top of the refrigerator) and moist until germination, then move to indirect sunlight and harden off your seedlings before planting out into the garden in late spring.



Ilex glabra appreciates fertilizing with a slow-release fertilizer throughout the year except when the plant is flowering (April through May). 

Sprinkle 5-10 pounds per 100 square feet in early spring before new growth begins. Repeat applications in the fall when leaves drop but don’t over-fertilize.


Various fungal problems including leaf spots, rusts, powdery mildew, root rot, and cankers may occur on glabra holly depending upon location and weather conditions. 

A reputable fungicide or a suitable organic approach should be employed to treat these issues. 


This evergreen shrub will grow to 6-10′ tall with an equal spread if not pruned. It is typically shaped into a symmetrical dome shape by trimming the top of the plant down to retain its lower limbs.

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The common name “icebox holly” refers to the small size of its fruit, which is sometimes used in decorative arrangements. The plant is fast-growing and adaptable, tolerating varied soil types, humidity levels, and shade or partial sun conditions. 

This evergreen shrub prefers moist, acidic soils but will adapt to clay, loam, or sand provided drainage is good. It can be propagated readily by softwood cuttings taken anytime during spring and summer and rooted under mist with bottom heat. 


Ilex glabra occurs naturally throughout most of the southeast United States (from Virginia to Texas; north to Oklahoma and Arkansas) and as far north as Kentucky, southern Ohio, and southern Ontario. 

It is one of the most cold-hardy hollies and may grow along roadways in Alabama and Mississippi where it is listed as an invasive species (it has invaded pine forests).

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It typically grows to 6-10′ tall with an equal spread if not pruned. This plant can be shaped into a symmetrical dome shape by trimming the top of the plant down to retain its lower limbs. 

Hardiness: USDA zones 7a – 10b (5°F – 30°F) 


The small flowers are white and inconspicuous and appear in clusters on new wood before the leaves emerge. Fruit usually appears about a month after flowering. 

Bloom season: Late winter to early spring (February through April)

Fruit/seed description: The fruit is an urn-shaped, waxy white drupe that turns black at maturity (about 1-1 ½ inches long). 

Inside the fruit are two seeds, which are released explosively when ripe or split open by birds feeding on the fruit. Seeds must be separated from the flesh of the fruit for planting. 

Seed germination instructions (for starting Ilex glabra indoors, outdoors; direct or transplant): The seeds must be separated from the flesh of the fruit for planting. 

Plant outdoors as soon as possible so they will have time to germinate and become established before winter. 

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Ilex glabra appreciates fertilizing with a slow-release fertilizer throughout the year except when the plant is flowering (April through May). 

Sprinkle 5-10 pounds per 100 square feet in early spring before new growth begins. Repeat applications in the fall when leaves drop but don’t over-fertilize. 

Water regularly, especially during dry periods that occur during summer and fall – it tolerates drought but not long periods of wet soil conditions. Root rot can be a problem, so be sure to plant in well-drained soil. 

Ilex glabra will typically grow to 6-10′ tall with an equal spread if not pruned. This plant can be shaped into a symmetrical dome shape by trimming the top of the plant down to retain its lower limbs.

Suggested uses: specimen, shrub border, accent, foundation planting, low hedge


Discover the secrets of cultivating Ilex glabra in shaded environments. Our comprehensive guide unravels the mysteries of this resilient species, shedding light on its growth requirements and potential challenges. Whether you’re a novice gardener or a seasoned enthusiast, delve into our article for expert tips and insights on fostering thriving Ilex glabra in shaded areas. Unlock the beauty of this versatile plant and elevate your garden’s allure with our informative resource.


By answering yes to our question ‘Can Ilex glabra grow in shade?’ we have learned that it will thrive best in light conditions with high levels of filtered sunlight since they are variable depending on location and seasons across the world. 

We have also learned that there are other plant types that are better suited to heavily shaded areas than Ilex glabra.

You can browse our shop to find the plant species best suited to your location.

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