Growing Holly Makes Holidays Jolly


We all recognize holly as a classic symbol of the holidays. What many people don’t know is that it’s easy to grow.

Choose the right type of holly, Ilex, and you can enjoy festive berries in your garden every December.

The cornuta species of holly thrives in Southern California, said Wendy Proud, horticulturist and product manager for Monrovia nursery, a wholesale nursery that supplies holly to local nurseries.

“Cornuta holly likes our long, hot summers, which cause them to produce a lot of berries,” she said. “This species is also a good choice because it doesn’t need a pollinizer to produce fruit like many other hollies.”

Not only do their festive berries and decorative leaves make long-lasting decorations, hollies are a good background plant the rest of the year, Proud said.


“Holly is a resilient, versatile, drought-resistant plant that can grow just about anywhere,” she said. “It makes a great barrier or security plant, as the foliage is usually prickly.”

Holly berries are also attractive to birds, said Steve Hutton, president of Conard-Pyle Co., a West Grove, Pa., wholesale nursery that specializes in holly.

“Contrary to popular opinion, no part of holly is poisonous,” Hutton said. “It is a perfectly safe plant to have in the garden.”

Conard-Pyle Co. grows a variety of holly plants, including an eye-catching yellow-berried form known as “Golden Girl.” Because it requires a pollinizer, you will need a male variety that flowers at the same time to get berries.

The company also produces the Berri-Magic holly. This is a combination of two hollies, which ensures cross-pollination. The female of this duo produces fire engine-red fruit. The plant reaches 6 to 8 feet high and wide. “Dazzler” produces many large, bright-red berries and has rich green, glossy foliage.

Another popular holly is “Willowleaf,” which grows larger than most cornutas--reaching 15 feet or higher. It has dense lateral branches and long, narrow, shiny, dark-green leaves with a slight twist to them. The abundant berries are blood red in color.

I. cornuta “Berries Jubilee” is also popular. It tends to grow like a hedge, reaching 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. The huge, cardinal-red berries appear even on young plants.

Some cornuta hollies don’t produce berries. Make sure the type you are considering does fruit.

To have luck growing holly, keep the following tips in mind:

* Plant in full sun.

* Provide good drainage. Hollies will grow in just about any soil but don’t like it wet. In heavy clay, amend with perlite or pumice. Plant holly on a slight mound.

* When planting in a container, use an azalea and camellia mix.

* Keep hollies moist but not soggy. Once established (in about two years), they become drought tolerant.

* Feed on a regular basis with an organic fertilizer such as a 10-6-4 or an acid-based liquid fertilizer designed for camellias and azaleas.

* Watch for pests. In our mild climate, scale--small bumps attached to the stems--can be a problem, Proud said. If your holly looks sickly, look closely for scale. They are different colors and some are easily camouflaged.

When you find a small infestation of scale, scrape it off with a finger or a knife, trying not to damage the stem. Or if you prefer, consult a certified nursery professional regarding the proper spray to use.

* Hollies generally flower in springtime, then fruit, but the fruit doesn’t ripen until late fall. Leaves and berries can be cut for holiday decorating, although young plants shouldn’t be stripped, as this could adversely affect future growth.

* Hollies tend to become open and loose in form if not trimmed. Prune and shape in the spring before the weather gets hot.

Monrovia, (888) 752-6848.

Conard-Pyle Co., (800) 458-6559.