When it’s time to deck the halls with boughs of Holly, the task is much easier when you grow your own! Holly is a wonderful plant to add winter interest in your landscape, since it holds on to its deep, glossy leaves all year long. What’s more, female Holly trees are covered with pure red berries from December through March, which makes them the perfect plant to dress up your yard at Christmas time.
Holly is a hardy shrub or tree that will provide beauty to your property for many years to come. Here’s how to plant this wintertime wonder for best results.
Growing Zones: 5-9
Bloom Time: Pale green flowers in spring; bright red berries is fall and winter
Exposure: Part shade, though will tolerate full sun in cooler climates
Mature Size: two to 50 feet in height, depending on variety
Notes: Holly is a broad-leafed evergreen that keeps it sharp, glossy leaves all year long. Tiny spring flowers are nearly unnoticeable, but small berries maintain their bright red color all winter long and are an attractive food source for local birds. Note that Holly berries are poisonous to humans.
Growing Holly in the Landscape
Most varieties of Holly are dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. The plants look alike for most of the year, but only the female plant will bear fruit. A male plant is required to pollinate female plants for berry production, though, so you’ll need to plant one of each within 200 yards of each other. If your neighbor already has a male Holly bush nearby, you may rely on its pollinating power for your female shrubs. To hedge your bets, it’s possible to plant a female Holly alone and wait a year to see if it produces berries without the male — this tends to work best in areas with many active honeybees or other pollinators. If it doesn’t, you can always go back and add a male to your property the following year.
American Holly is a native plant that typically grows in the understory of a forest, so it’s well-adapted to dappled shade in the summer months. It also prefers acidic soil, so Holly makes a good companion plant beneath other evergreens where grass and flowers struggle. If possible, choose a spot where it will be sheltered from intense winter winds.
Spring is the best time to plant your Holly bush to allow it to become well established before winter arrives. To plant your Holly bush, amend the soil with compost and till it deeply to help your plant spread its roots. Dig a hole twice as big around as your plant’s root ball, placing your Holly in the hole so that its crown sits slightly higher than the soil line. Backfill with soil and compost and press firmly, making sure the plant is upright. Water deeply and mulch with two to three inches of shredded bark.
Ongoing Care for Holly
Holly prefers well-drained soil to avoid root rot. In its first season, water when you receive less than one inch of rain per week; after that, Holly is quite drought tolerant and rarely requires irrigation once established.
Holly typically grows well with little interference, making it a carefree plant for your landscape. If your Holly grows very slowly, you can fertilize it in the fall and spring with a food formulated for acid-loving plants. Though holly doesn’t require pruning, you can clip branches for holiday decorating or prune it to shape in — you guessed it! — December.