Spiny and tough, dwarf Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta "Rotunda") works well as a barrier plant. Several of them planted together make a fine hedge that will keep wandering children in the yard, or strange dogs out of it. Also called dwarf horned holly -- each rectangular-shaped leaf is tipped with three sharp prongs -- the holly grows slowly and remains at a manageable size with minimum pruning.
The dwarf Chinese holly, as its common name implies, is smaller than many other hollies. The tree grows to maximum heights of between 4 and 5 feet tall, and is usually 1 to 2 feet wider than it is tall. In its natural state, the holly grows in a dense, rounded form, but it can be pruned for shape. The most vigorous pruning is usually done to train the plant to grow on one leader rather than on multiple trunks. Dwarf Chinese holly is a slow-growing plant, which means it grows less than 12 inches per year.
Most hollies grow best in temperate climates, and the dwarf Chinese holly is no exception. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, this evergreen plant grows best in partial shade but will tolerate full sun and drought conditions.
Rich, cool soil is best for this plant. For best growth, water enough to keep the soil consistently moist, which may mean watering more than once a week during hot, dry periods. Overly wet soil is not good for the plant's roots, as they need good aeration. Hollies in general grow best in well-draining soil that is slightly acidic.
Appearance and Uses
Dwarf Chinese holly has shiny, dark green leaves that stay on the plant all year. The dense, spiny foliage adds attractive texture to almost any landscape, and it may tempt little hands. Although it doesn't pose a danger to young children, its spiky leaves may be painful, so teach little ones to be cautious around the plant. Dwarf Chinese holly does produce berries, but the leaves are so tightly packed they usually hide them. For this reason, don't expect to see decorative berries and instead enjoy the plant for the texture of the leaves and for its growth habit. Dwarf Chinese holly is generally used as a hedge plant or shrub, but its slow growth rate means it can also be used as a container specimen plant.