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Hollies add to Christmas landscape

Posted: December 4, 2011 - 1:01am

This past week we received rain; something that has been in very short supply this year.

Along with the rain came cooler temperatures, making it feel like Christmas. I’ve seen many Christmas trees in vehicles, poinsettias in stores and homes, and people starting to look for greenery for decorations.

One of the plants used for decorations is holly.

There are two main types of hollies: evergreens and deciduous. The evergreen hollies are more common, but the deciduous hollies can add a great deal of color to the winter landscape.

Deciduous hollies carry heavy crops of bright red, orange and occasionally yellow berries well into the winter. Their lack of leaves during the dormant season makes the fruit display all the more noticeable.

Common deciduous holly species are winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and possumhaw (I. decidua).

Winterberry has a slightly larger, more rounded leaf than possumhaw, which is a glossier shade of green.

Possumhaw is larger, topping out at 30 feet. Winterberry usually reaches no more than 15 feet. Most cultivars will not attain that size in the landscape.

Both of these species of hollies grow well in our area. Native to swampy areas, deciduous hollies are somewhat adaptable to various soils as long as they are not allowed to get too dry. Both species prefer soils with an adequate amount of organic matter. These hollies need to be mulched with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch.

Deciduous hollies prefer full sun. In full sun, they will set more fruit.

If hollies are producing berries, the plant might be a male plant. Hollies come in male and female plants.

To ensure the best fruit set, there needs to be a male plant in close proximity to the female to ensure adequate pollination.

When used in the garden, deciduous hollies often fade into the background until fall. Once the leaves have fallen, the berries will add color in the landscape.

Deciduous hollies need plenty of room to grow. They can fill up a smaller space quickly. In the landscape, they can be used as a large shrub or a small tree. Plants will often produce suckers from the base, but this is rarely a major problem.

Some of these popular cultivars include Sparkleberry, Winter Red or Byers Golden. Some of the better male pollinators are Apollo and Southern Gentleman. American hollies (I. opaca) will provide pollen for the species and some cultivars.

The evergreen hollies are the more common of the hollies grown in gardens. The most common native holly in our area is the American holly, which is slow-growing and can reach a height of 50 feet. The tree can have a rounded shape if grown in full sun, but when grown under other trees it will have a pyramid shape. The leaves are 2-4 inches long with spines. There are many named varieties on the market, and there is a variety that has yellow berries called Yellow Berry.

Another group that has excellent berry production is the Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta). There are many different types of these hollies, which range from 2 to 40 feet in height.

One of the more common, and heavier berry producers, is Burford holly. The berries are prized as food by mockingbirds and cedar waxwings. The Burford holly also is available in a dwarf form that will grow to about 8 feet high.

Probably the best all-around holly for the South is one named Nellie R. Stevens. This holly is likely a cross between a Chinese holly and English holly. It is fast-growing and will grow to 15-25 feet high. It will set fruit without a male plant, but you will get more berries if a male plant is present.

Deciduous or evergreen, hollies add beauty to the garden in spring, summer, fall and winter. But, there are few plants that add the color in the winter that hollies do.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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