Decorative Hollies

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Holly berries on a Holly bush in early Winter.

By Kathie Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist

If you're looking for a plant with year-round appeal, holly belongs near the top. 

No matter where you live, hollies offer shiny red, orange or yellow berries, and many varieties have characteristic waxy leaves that clothe the plant in all seasons.

There are thousands of different varieties, the main distinctions being either evergreen or deciduous. They all prefer similar growing conditions. 

Here are some tips to keeping hollies healthy and full of fruit:

  • Hollies need a neutral to slightly acidic soil that's well drained and loamy to sandy.
  • If you have clay soil, amend it with compost or composted organic matter.
  • Full sun will promote the best fruiting, but hollies will grow reasonably well in partial shade.
  • All hollies are tolerant of air pollution and road salts.

There's still time to plant hollies this fall. In northern areas, the best time is after the plant has gone dormant but before the soil freezes. In southern areas, you can plant anytime. 

Dig a hole that's deep enough to allow the root ball to sit slightly above the soil line. Make the hole twice as wide as it is deep. After planting, spread mulch to keep the roots cool and moist, but keep it about 6 inches away from the trunk to prevent nibbling by mice during the winter.

If you want to cut some branches of berries this fall for holiday decorating (they last about two weeks indoors), make cuts with an eye to the plant's shape. Most shrubby hollies grow naturally into an attractive shape. The taller, tree-like hollies, such as English and American hollies, look best if trained when young into a pyramidal shape with a dominant central stem. 

Hollies with small leaves tolerate shearing. Selective hand-pruning will give your plants the best overall shape and the best crop of berries. Save this type of extensive pruning for the spring, just before new growth begins.

Spring is also the best time to fertilize. Spread a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, on the soil surface. The roots are shallow and can be damaged if you try to dig it in. Apply one-third of the fertilizer inside the branch canopy and the rest outside the drip line.

A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants, and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.

Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association

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