Don’t settle for a barren, bleak, boring backyard this winter! Plant a few hollies now to sizzle-up to the winter landscape later.
While most often thought of when decking the halls (those shapely leaves! those brilliant berries!), glossy, glammy hollies are all that plus they’re useful, tough, fuss-free, wildlife magnet shrubs that add color, form and interest to the landscape year round. And they’re versatile—ranging in size from a compact dwarf to a towering giant.
Here are five favorite easy ways to use hollies in the landscape.
Hedges and Screens
Because of their year-round foliage, ease of pruning, and generally quick growth rate, evergreen hollies are perfect plants for screens and hedges. Tight growers such as Chinese and Meserve hollies make good hedges, as do English hollies whose spiny leaves provide a useful barrier. For a thick, dense hedge, prune regularly. Note—unless indicated, hollies need a male and female plant to bear berries (the ratio is 1 male for every 10 female holly plants).
Here’s the thing about hollies as foundation plants—while stately, classy and downright old-money looking, when it comes to fronting the house, they can use a bit of help. Showy only in winter when they flaunt red berries, they look best in spring and summer when paired with flowering deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas and viburnums, and in winter with other evergreens such as conifers and rhododendrons.
Want to attract wildlife to your garden? Native winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are deciduous hollies (only 30 species compared to more than 750 evergreen species) that lose their pretty leaves in winter. What remains is a breathtaking display of thousands of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem. Leave unsheared, loose and open, and watch the birds flock. Native to wetlands, these tolerate damp soils! Most require a pollinizer such as Jim Dandy for best berry set.
Little Goblin® Red Winterberry
Zone: 3 – 9
Extra big and abundant rich-red berries on a dwarf plant; compact size makes it ideal for residential landscapes. Plant a male winterberry pollinizer nearby.
Where you might use a conifer as a stand-alone, brake-slamming specimen, consider a holly instead. Tall and impressive all year round, they make a real statement in the winter when not much else is happening in the landscape. And, they look amazing under a blanket of fresh snow!
From compact varieties that can be sheared into tight balls, trained into topiary, left as tall, narrow columns, and some large shrubs that can be limbed-up into standards, hollies are excellent, shapely, interesting container plants. They hold their own flying solo in a pot, but are also charming underplanted with seasonal color. Use them paired at the front door, as the centerpiece of a garden bed, flanking the edges of a patio, or wherever you need an architectural punch.
Sky Pencil Japanese Holly
Zone: 5 – 9
The narrow, columnar form with an elegant, formal feel is just right for small areas. Dark green foliage holds its color year round, sporting purple berries in fall.
Keeping Holly Happy
- Part to full sun; not a good choice for shade or as an understory shrub.
- Prefers well-drained, moist, and fertile soil.
- Winterberry and Meserve hollies don’t respond well to shearing – hand prune once a year to keep long branches under control; other hollies require little pruning but tolerate severe pruning required for formal hedges and topiaries.
- Prune in spring to optimize berry production.
- Feed in spring and early fall with Holly-tone or other fertilizer for acid-loving plants.
- Apply a layer of compost under the tree each spring, spreading it out to the dripline (the area under the outermost branches). Add a two inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds, keeping mulch a few inches away from the trunk.