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Deck the Landscape With Hollies

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WinterberryPhoto by Robert E. Lyons

Winterberry
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Mention hollies in December and most people think of the spiny evergreen that is used to deck the halls for the holidays. When it comes to the landscape, the diversity within the holly(Ilex) genus is neverending. These sturdy beauties can be evergreen or deciduous, small and spineless, or large and spiny. They are available in numerous shapes such as columnar, pyramidal and rounded. Homeowners use these plants for screens, hedges, mass plantings and specimen plantings.

Hollies are dioecious, meaning males produce pollen and females produce berries. Good fruit production can normally be expected if the male and female grow within 30 feet of one another. The resulting berries can be red, orange, yellow or black, depending on species. Hollies fall within the easy-to-care-for category. They prefer well-drained soil with full sun and slightly acidic soil, with the pH between 5.0 and 6.0. To maintain healthy plants, fertilize and mulch. Common insect pests of hollies include leaf miner, scale and red mites. Some of the Japanese cultivars can be very susceptible to root rot diseases.

One of my favorite evergreen hollies is Ilex crenata ‘Helleri.’ This Japanese holly survives well in many environments and makes a nice foundation plant, although it is susceptible to root rot. Another attractive choice is Ilex cornuta ‘Carissa.’ This Chinese holly has one single spine which makes for an interesting form. It is not as hardy as other varieties and seldom fruits. I also like the blue boy and blue girl combination, Ilex x meserveae, known as blue holly.

Blue Holly Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Blue Holly
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

A good deciduous holly is the Ilex decidua, possumhaw holly, which has beautiful winter color and grows to a small tree. Many cultivars are available. Another great deciduous holly is the common winterberry,Ilex verticillata.

The true hollies are a strong suit for the JC Raulston Arboretum. It would take some serious time to study the entire collection but you would certainly walk away with great ideas for your home landscape. Many specimens are mature and robust, exhibiting all the beauty the genus is renown for showing off!

Diane Ashburn