During the bleak cold of winter, an evergreen can be a bit of colorful sunshine in an otherwise dreary landscape. The holly plant with its bright red berries has a long tradition of being used in holiday décor both inside and outside the home.
In order to have red berries on your holly bush, a bit of sex education is required. Hollies are dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants and both are needed in order to produce berries. It only takes a single male to pollinate several females and the females will be the plants producing the berries. When purchasing holly plants be sure to check the tags on the plants to make sure you are purchasing some of both sexes.
Do not “mix and match” names of holly cultivars as blossom times by even one week will result in poor or even non-existent pollination and thus little or no fruit will be set on the female plant. It is recommended that if a male counterpart is not available, use “Blue Stallion” as the male companion.
Hollies like to be planted in a protected area out of the wind and like a break from the afternoon sun in the summer. The soil should be slightly acidic, moist and well drained. Pruning of either gender should not be done too late in the season as most of the floral buds for the next season may be trimmed off. The flower buds will be set by mid-July on the current season’s growth.
The Meserve hybrid hollies will serve you well with their winter hardiness and durability. “Blue Girl” and “Blue Princess” and their corresponding “Blue Boy” and “Blue Prince” grow well in our hardiness zone. “China Girl” and “China Boy” have good heat and cold tolerance but do not produce the blue-green leaves of the “Blue” hybrid.
There are some native deciduous hollies that can be chosen also. Winterberry, which will grow to about eight feet, is native to moist, wet areas of eastern North America. It is a tough shrub resistant to insect and disease damage. Its dark green leaves turn yellow tinged with maroon in the fall. Winterberry’s pea-sized red fruit, which ripens in September, will hang on until December or January. The slightly larger fruit of “Winter Red” will decorate your landscape until March or April.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.