Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

The Sky Pencil Holly is a cultivar of Ilex crenata, Japanese Holly. Native to Japan and East Asia, it is found in lowland and mountain thickets and wetlands throughout Japan. Smaller than other varieties at 6 to 8 feet tall, it is a beautiful evergreen shrub with densely branched, columnar growth.

Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

They are very easy to grow, tapering toward the top, the branches are erect, usually clustered, and maintained without pruning. A good plant for containers and accents, it is a vertical accent in mixed borders and fits well in formal gardens. If you have been looking for a small tree to give a strong vertical accent to your planting, look no further.

Also, if you want a screening row plant that will fit into a very small space, then this page is for you. Sky pencil holly is the simple answer to this common but hard-to-solve garden problem. Most types of holly bushes are rounded in shape and eventually become wider.

The unique Sky Pencil Holly is different, it requires no trimming at all and creates a wonderfully striking vertical accent in your landscape. At 8 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. They are truly eye-catching and a good way to create a screen in a tight spot.

This unique plant, sky pencil (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) is a versatile plant with many uses in the landscape. The first thing that catches the eye is its slender, columnar shape. Left to nature, it can be less than 2 feet (61 cm) wide, and when pruned, it is only about 1 foot (31 cm) wide.

It grows easily in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in sun to shade. Adaptable to a variety of soils, from wet to dry, sandy to clay. Prefers well-drained, light, moist, acidic soils. Tolerates drought to some degree.

However, they may suffer from summer heat and humidity in USDA zones 8-9 in the southern US. It is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). So, both male and female flowers must be present to pollinate the female flowers and produce fruit.

I. Plant Profile – An Overview of the plant

Common namesJapanese Holly ‘Sky Pencil’, Sky Pencil Japanese Holly, Boxleaf Holly ‘Sky Pencil’, Box-leaved Holly ‘Sky Pencil’, Fastigiata Group
Botanical namellex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
Plant TypeShrubs, Trees
Plant FamilyIlex – Hollies
Growth RateSlow
ExposureFull Sun, Partial Sun
Height6′ – 10′ (180cm – 3m)
Spread1′ – 3′ (30cm – 90cm)
Spacing36″ (90cm)
Soil TypeChalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pHAcid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil DrainageMoist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Bloom TimeMay to June
Bloom DescriptionGreenish white

II. Appearance

Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ is a slow-growing, narrow, strong columnar evergreen holly with convex, dark green leaves that remain glossy all year. Small white flowers are followed by small black fruits in late summer and fall. Sky Pencil is a female variety and requires a male pollinator to produce fruit.

Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

Sky Pencil is a slender, columnar shrub up to 2 meters tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide. With pruning, it can be kept down to 2 m tall and 31 cm wide. It is grown mainly for its interesting shape.

It has a black, globular fruits 1/4 inch long that are produced on pollinated female plants in fall and winter. The fruits are hidden under the leaves. All Sky Pencil Holly varieties are female plants and require a male plant nearby for pollination.

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It is good for decoration with its flowers. Sky Pencil blooms small and dull greenish-white flowers in clusters of one to three in spring. They appear along the leaf axis which are not considered to be ornamental due to its size.

The leaves of Sky Pencil are arranged in an alternate position. They are glossy, dark green, and slightly convex. They are 1 ⅜ inch in length and ¾ inch in width.

III. Growing and Care Conditions

It grows in sun or semi-shade, is easily transplanted, and maintains a great shape without pruning. However, if you want to adjust its size, you may want to trim it from time to time. It is an ideal plant for small gardens and apartment patios.

Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')


Choose a planting site that is sunny and sheltered from strong winds. Partial sun is possible, but we recommend planting in the sunniest location possible (6-8 hours per day). For best growing results, allow the soil to drain well.

Next, dig a hole twice as wide as the width of the sky pencil rootball and equal in depth. Carefully place the tree in the center of the hole, hold the sky pencil upright, and begin backfilling it with the soil you removed. Then, add organic matter to the soil as needed to improve drainage. Water the planting site to settle the soil and mulch to retain soil moisture.


It adapts to a wide range of climates, but requires well-drained, slightly acidic soil for best performance. Provide good sun exposure and keep the soil moist to maintain the beautiful green color of the foliage. Especially if it is used for landscaping. 


Water the Sky Pencil Holly regularly to ensure that the roots are well established. As a rule of thumb, check to see if the soil around the tree is moist or soggy. If the leaves turn light green, it is a sign that there is too much moisture in the soil.


Fertilizer is not needed for Sky Pencil Holly until the first spring after planting. For only once a year, a fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium should be applied. Follow the direction by manufacturer on the packaging.

Soil Requirements

Sky Pencil prefers moist soil. It should be watered once a week for the first year. Observe the soil carefully and water thoroughly when the soil is dry one inch below the surface.

The Holly Tree will grow in your garden as long as the soil is normal garden soil. It will grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils under normal garden conditions. It grows best in mildly acidic soils, but this is common in East Asia, and mildly alkaline soils are perfectly acceptable. It also requires good drainage and does not need to be constantly watered.


Plant Sky Pencil Holly once and it requires very little care. Pruning is not necessary unless you want to reduce the height or narrow the width of the plant. If pruning is required, it should be done in winter when the plant is dormant.

Pests and Diseases

Pests on sky pencil include aphids, caecilian beetles, and holly leafminers. Horticultural oils are effective against aphids and cauliflower beetles, while leafminer infestations should be pruned and treated with an insecticide on the bushes.

Holly diseases include canker disease, which damages branches, and prune those that show dimpling. Holly Search occurs in late winter and can cause the leaves to turn brown. Avoid by keeping shrubs away from windy areas or covering them with burlap in winter.

Windbreaks or mulch should be used to protect from wind and cold. Spider mites, nematodes, and other insect pests sometimes occur. In alkaline soils, the leaves turn yellow.

IV. Uses

It grows as thin as a pencil, making it ideal for small gardens. Wonderful as a narrow hedge or screen, and an unusual, natural, vertical accent in the landscape. Ideal as a centerpiece plant in the garden.

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Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

Some evergreen shrubs overhang a given space, but not Sky Pencil. This is a well-behaved columnar evergreen that will work very well in your garden design. Plant just one plant in a curve or bend in a perennial (lodging plant) bed for a transitional moment. You can also use Sky Pencil repeatedly to give your design a strong structure.

Another great use for this particular plant is mass planting to create an effective low screen for privacy, such as in a narrow side yard. To create a solid screen, plant sky pencils less than 2 feet apart and the plants will grow together.

V. Why should you buy this plant

Sky Pencil Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ is a plant of many personalities. This handsome, upright shrub is a good choice as a framing element in formal gardens and for height in informal settings. Its glossy, dark green foliage is evergreen, so it is present even in midwinter. It is also an easy tree to care for, as it is rarely plagued by pests and diseases.

Sky Pencil Holly Tree (lex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

Known for its beauty from metropolitan areas to home backyards. The Sky Pencil Holly is one of the most popular and versatile evergreen tree species. It’s especially versatile because it can be planted as an accent in an exterior corner, in rows as a narrow hedge, or as a stand-alone ornamental.

However, no matter how you use it, you can expect hassle-free care. Sky Pencil Holly will fascinate your visitors with its natural, skyward growth without the need for trimming (unless you want to keep it at a particular height). So for a sleek, up-to-date, stylish look, go with this tall, slender, columnar-shaped Holly.

Plus, it’s one of the few plants whose branches grow upward and grow tall without invading nearby plants. The benefits of the sky pencil are endless, from its sophisticated silhouette to its cold tolerance that can withstand temperatures down to minus 10 degrees Celsius.

Liven up your home. Plant sky pencils on either side of your front door. Or how about planting them on either side of your windows? This evergreen is a great way to accent any elevated area in your home.

Fast-growing and easy to care for, it’s no wonder sky pencils are so popular. This evergreen shrub produces small, glossy, dark green leaves all year round. New shoots are light green but darken with age.

No matter how small your garden is, no matter how small your planting space, there is always room to plant Sky Pencil Holly. As its name suggests, the Sky Pencil is a pencil-thin tree. This dramatic evergreen holly variety can create a very thin punctuation mark wherever it is placed. It reaches skyward, creating a tight columnar effect. Easy to care for, this shrub makes a wonderful vertical accent.

It is a great accent plant to frame an entryway or to mark a special place in your garden. It retains its clean, upright form without the need for trimming, so just plant it and relax and enjoy. The dark evergreen foliage is beautiful in all seasons.

It is also an ideal plant for small areas where a hedge or privacy screen is needed. It quickly forms a dense barrier in sun or shade and requires little space for growth. It grows well in most types of soil and can be enjoyed anywhere in the country except in cold or hot areas.


How fast does Japanese sky pencil holly grow?

It grows fast, growing up to about 10 inches a year and 6-8 feet tall.

How do you care for a sky pencil?

Pruning is not necessary unless you want to reduce the height or narrow the width of the plant. If pruning is necessary, it should be done in winter when the plant is dormant. Fertilize in the spring with 1 lb. of 10-6-4 or an evergreen broadleaf-only fertilizer per 2.5 cm trunk diameter.

How far apart should you plant sky pencil holly?

Allow a spacing of 3 to 4 feet. For a hedge, plant 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart, measured from the center of each plant.

Is the Sky Pencil the same as Japanese holly?

Sky pencil is a horticultural variety of holly. Sky pencil has unique growth characteristics, being very slender and upright, and is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the country as a garden accent plant.