Not So Fond of Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’

Apr 5, 2024 | Gardens

98% of the plants featured here are plants I love. I’ve hated a couple in the past, but this week, but hate is a pretty strong word. Today, I’m talking about a plant that I never recommend to others. I’ve grown it in a few places, and let’s just say, I’m not very fond of Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ and here’s why.

Name:  Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’

Type of Plant: aka sky pencil Japanese holly. A thin, vertical variety of this small-leaved evergreen.

Why I Dislike This Plant: This plant doesn’t hold up well over time. It’s prone to wind and winter damage, and splays open after a heavy snow. It can suffer from spider mites, and if you grow it in alkaline soil, it will become yellow and have failure to thrive.  

A Word to the Wise:  If you have this plant, clip the upright stems every year to thicken the growth. Make sure the soil is acidic and treat it for mites if necessary. Or just enjoy it as long as it looks okay, but plan on replacing it with a better plant once it declines. (In terms of a thin, upright evergreen, a North Pole Thuja (arborvitae) from Proven Winners, or a Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Fastigiata’ is a better choice.)

I planted a group of 3 young Sky Pencil Japanese Holly in a very narrow bed. For the first two years they looked fine. Note the tall, new skinny growth on the top. If you have this plant, be sure to clip that in half in the spring to keep the plant as thick as possible for as long as possible. 

But with every heavy snow they would splay out, and branches would crack. I am not wild about going out in the height of a snowstorm to shake snow off of my shrubs…

I had a very tall sky pencil planted in this corner for about five years. I would have to wrap it with cord, and tie it up to the wall to prevent the snow and wind damage. It still got mite damage and turned thin and yellow. I replaced it some years ago with a North Pole Arborvitae from Proven Winners and have been very happy I did. Why have a plant that you have to put into bondage every winter, and worry about the wind damage? 

This is the last of the 3 Sky Pencil Japanese Holly that I had in my long, narrow bed. It is no longer bringing much to the party, so I will soon be digging it up and replacing it with another plant.


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