Magazine article Sunset

High on Holly

Magazine article Sunset

High on Holly

Article excerpt


How to choose and use the versatile shrub

There's more to holly than the shapely, lustrous leaves and winter berries that enhance our winter bouquets, wreaths, and swags. These versatile evergreen shrubs and trees (a few are deciduous) can bring year-round beauty to the garden, whether in dense hedges or espaliers, as vertical accents, or in containers. They're among the best "bones" of a landscape.

Of about 400 species, English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is perhaps the most widely known. It grows slowly to 40 feet or more, although in gardens, varieties such as 'Gold Coast' and 'Sparkler' stay under 12 feet tall. New selections whose leaves are edged or splashed with cream or gold can brighten a dark spot in a garden or serve as a background for other plants.

Some hollies are self-fruitful and don't require a pollenizer, so you don't need two plants to get berries. These include named varieties of Ilex × aquipernyi (a hybrid between I. aquifolium and I. pernyi) such as 'San Jose' and 'Brilliant' ; both produce small red berries and grow in mild climates (Sunset climate zones 4-9 and 14-24).

But most hollies require a male and a female plant to grow within 100 feet of one another for the female to reliably produce berries. One male plant can pollinate any number of females nearby. The best bet: Plant a male of the same species as the female (plants are typically labeled). Some recently introduced varieties of I. × meserveae (hybrids between I. aquifolium and a cold-tolerant species from northern Japan), for example, are sold in male-female pairs: I, × m. 'Blue Girl' and 7. × m. 'Blue Boy'.

This month, nurseries will be offering dozens of hollies, many in full berry. You can plant them in the garden or in larger containers, or slip them-still in nursery cans-into decorative pots. (If you use plants in cans for indoor decorating, set them outside at night and give them a good misting. The next morning, bring them back indoors for the day.)

Hollies have long lifespans; plant one now and it may well produce sprigs for your great-grandchildren to harvest during holidays to come.

Six great hollies

Varieties of English holly (Ilex aquifolium) can have red, orange, or yellow berries, as the sampling at right shows. Except where noted, those listed below require a pollenizer to produce berries, and will grow about 20 to 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide in 15 years; best in zones 4-9 and 14-17. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.