Gardeners use evergreen holly in the garden as specimens and as hedges, but if you haven’t seen the new hollies that are available then you should look at them again for many different uses in the garden.
Hollies can be divided into two main groups, the well-known evergreen, mostly prickly sort and the lesser known deciduous hollies that are also included in the genus Ilex.
When first observed it seems that they should not belong together. One type is prickly, one is not. One loses its leaves and the other does not. But when observed closely, they are classified together due to the following characteristics.
One of the most important to gardeners is that the male and female flowers are on separate plants, so you will need to make sure that you have both male and females nearby to ensure pollination, and therefore fruit set — one male plant tucked at the back or in the middle of five to seven female plants. This is referred to as being dioecious. The leaves of hollies are alternate, with either a spiny or serrated margin. If the leaves are opposite and it looks like an evergreen holly it is likely to be Osmanthus or False Holly.
This month we will discuss deciduous hollies and next month evergreen.
Deciduous hollies or Winterberries are great to grow in a wet to average spot in the yard, where they can be allowed to grow and send up suckers. They do need sun to part shade, with more berries in the sunnier position. Winterberries are native to the Eastern US, where they can be found growing at the edge of the woods, especially alongside streams. They make a wonderful informal screen when planted in a double zig-zag row. They have edible fruit, and so support many animals and birds.
Now is a great time to buy and plant them. It is always good to buy a plant when it is in its main season of interest so that you can see if you actually like it. Fall is a wonderful time to plant as the roots can get established during the autumn and spring before the plant has to put the effort into the new leaf growth.
When you take the plant out of the pot, remember to break up the root ball. Most containerized plants are potted up in peat moss-based compost. If that is left on the root ball and it dries out, it almost repels water, and the plant dies a dry death. You can be quite rough with it and use your shovel to make vertical cuts around the ball to make sure that there are no encircling roots.
The main deciduous holly that is grown in gardens is Ilex verticillata, or a cross with another deciduous holly Ilex serrata (the Japanese Winterberry). Remember that as well as the showy female plants there should be a suitable male pollinator nearby, as these hollies are grown for the red or gold fruit that stays on the plant until eaten by the birds. As these hollies bloom either early or late in the season, the correct male plant is needed.
Ilex ‘Sparkleberry’ was one of the earliest varieites that I grew. This cultivar received the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal Plant Award, for an outstanding landscape plant in 1988. The fruit is red and stays on for a while through the autumn and then the birds eat it. This can get to be 10 to 12 feet tall, but it can easily be cut back. It does best in full sun. The pollinator would be ‘Apollo.’
These days one of the most commonly sold cultivars is Ilex ‘Winter Red’ (PHS Gold Medal 1995), which grows to about 8 feet. The fruit on this shrub are larger than ‘Sparkleberry’, and persist longer into the winter. Check this holly out in the Formal Native Plant garden here at the Landscape Arboretum. If we have snow this winter, these holly twigs and berries against the white backdrop make wonderful photos.
If you are not a red person there is a fairly new sport of ‘Winter Red’ called ‘Winter Gold’ (PHS Gold Medal 2005), with pumpkin colored fruit. We have this growing in the Albright Winter Garden so you can come and see it before deciding if it is a must have plant for your garden. The pollinator male for these females would be ‘Southern Gentleman.’
If you have a smaller garden, choose ‘Red Sprite,’ which only reaches 3 to 4 feet tall. Use ‘Jim Dandy’ as the pollinator.
Once you know this plant, you will see that it has become quite popular in gardens, especially birding gardens. Identification of Winterberries is more obvious while the berries are on the holly, but make sure that you remember to observe the plant in the spring and summer when it is not so showy. A highly recommended plant.
Next Month — Evergreen Hollies
Reference: Fred Galle: Hollies — The Genus Ilex, 1997
If you have any questions please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Jenny Rose Carey
Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler