Wirt L. Winn HollyIlex x koehneana 'Wirt L. Winn'
View more from Holly Trees
30 day - ARRIVE AND THRIVE™ guaranteeLearn more
Ilex x koehneana 'Wirt L. Winn'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Wirt L. Winn Holly grows naturally into a near-perfect pyramid, between 20 and 30 feet tall in time, with a spread of no more than 10 feet. It has dense branching and needs no trimming to retain its compact, bushy form right to the ground. The large, dark-green leaves are edged in handsome spines, and the unusually large berries that crowd the branches in winter are brilliant red. This variety is known for its heavy berry crops. Grow it as a lawn specimen, a screen, at the back of shrub beds, or among large deciduous trees – it is gorgeous anywhere.
The Wirt L. Winn Holly grows in sheltered parts of zone 6 and in all the warmer zones, enjoying heat and humidity that other types often don’t thrive in. It will grow equally well in full sun or partial shade, in any well-drained soil. Water regularly when young, but mature trees have good resistance to summer drought. It isn’t bothered by pests or diseases, and deer avoid it.
Sometimes the best hybrid plants come from crossing together trees with very different features. Among hollies there could hardly be more contrast than between the European holly and the lusterleaf holly from Japan. The classic holly of Christmas cards, the European holly is only happy in moderate climates, and needs plenty of moisture to grow well. The lusterleaf doesn’t even have spiny leaves, but those leaves are large, and so are the berries. It’s a plant of warmer areas, so when these two are brought together the result is an adaptable plant with the toughness of the lusterleaf and handsome spiny leaves like the European holly, plus a bumper berry crop. All this wrapped up in a plant that tolerates heat and drought and grows into the classic pyramid of glossy green that we love about hollies. A unique and winning plant you are going to cherish in your garden.
The Wirt L. Winn Holly forms an upright evergreen pyramid of dense growth reaching 20 feet, and 30 feet in time, growing no more than a third of its height across. It keeps its branches to the ground for a very long time, unless you choose to prune it up. That will reveal a sturdy trunk of smooth, soft dark-gray bark. The branches are almost horizontal, building a neat and dense pyramid of green. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, and oval, with a row of spines all along the edges. Their color is a striking emerald green, and they always look perfect.
In spring, clusters of greenish-white flowers form at the ends of the branches of the previous year, and these develop into bunches of large berries, well over ¼ of an inch across. By October they have turned from green to bright red, bringing your tree to life as the days close in. They last well through the winter months, and of course they are ideal for making wreaths and Christmas decorations of all kinds. For a big crop a male tree is needed, growing nearby. This could be any male variety of European holly, or of lusterleaf holly, and it is likely that other male holly trees would also get the job done.
With its natural pyramidal form, this tree is ideal for planting as a lawn specimen. It also makes a striking screen, planted in a row, and it could also be clipped into a more formal hedge. Grow it around the garden at the back of shrub beds, against blank walls of your home, or scattered among deciduous trees, as it would be in nature. The berries are sterile, so they cannot sprout into seedlings, a problem that has made the European holly an invasive pest in some parts of the country.
The Wirt L. Winn Holly is hardy in warmer parts of zone 6, and even in colder parts the branches are hardy, even if the foliage should be damaged a little. New spring growth soon replaces leaves that may fall in winter in that zone. In zone 7 to 9 it remains fully evergreen and lush all year round and resists the hotter and drier summers that are typical of those zones in many parts of the country.
Full sun or partial shade suit the Wirt L. Winn Holly perfectly. The biggest berry crops will form in full sun, but good plants develop in partial shade too, as long as it is not too dark. Any well-drained soil suits it well, and this adaptable tree has no special demands. It will not grow well in wet soils, but established plants are drought resistant.
We recommend annual fertilizer applications for holly bushes. Use a balanced fertilizer for evergreens in spring, and in summer too for maximum growth, and if you trim your trees regularly. Mulch over the roots, especially for younger trees, to conserve moisture and keep the soil cooler. This tree has a natural pyramidal habit, and it doesn’t need regular trimming. If you do want to trim, do it in early summer, when you can see (and leave) berry clusters. This tree has good resistance to pests and diseases, and the spiny leaves make sure that deer avoid it.
When the European holly (Ilex aquifolium) and the lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia) are grown together they can naturally cross-pollinate each other. This could never happen in nature, since the lusterleaf is from Japan, but it happens when collections of hollies are grown in parks and botanical gardens. The German botanist Bernard Koehne identified these seedling trees as natural hybrids very early in the 20th century, and they are named after him, as Ilex x koehneana. This cross has happened several times, in different places, so there are a range of named plants grouped together as Koehne Hollies. Wirt Leland Winn was part of a prominent family that founded Winn Nurseries in Virginia in 1885. We don’t know exactly how this plant came about, but he is honored in its name, ‘Wirt L. Winn’.
Koehne holly trees are outstanding hybrid hollies, and among them, the Wirt L. Winn Holly is a top-rated selection, with perfect form, attractive foliage and big berry crops. These are not among the easiest hollies to reproduce from stem cuttings, a method needed to preserve their unique genetics. This means they are always in short supply, and hard to source. Take this opportunity to grow one of these rare trees, but take it now, because they will all be gone very soon.