I’ve always had a thing for holly – holly greeting cards, holly guest towels and even artificial holly garlands. Still, it wasn’t until I started growing and bringing in fresh clippings that my fling became more than just a seasonal thing for this beloved holiday greenery. Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., I’ll be talking with Ron Wilson on his radio show about our blog and listeners’ favorite hollies, so I hope you’ll give us a call at 614-821-WTVN.
Thankfully, hollies are relatively easy to grow, and nurseries offer several varieties adapted for Midwestern gardens. In general, hollies grow best in sunny open areas, but some – like the longstalk, winterberry and American hollies – can tolerate part shade to light shade. Most hollies also prefer a well-drained, slightly acidic soil that is high in organic matter. Native
winterberry and inkberry hollies are more adaptable and will grow in slightly damp soils. However, English holly (Ilex aquifolium), the classic Christmas holly, evolved from coastal climates and doesn’t tolerate our extreme winter colds or summer heat waves. On the other hand, Meserve or blue hollies which derive from a cross between English hollies and hardier rugosa hollies, offer a similar alternative for zones 5 and 6.
Evergreen hollies need winter wind protection, preferably shelter on the east and south sides of a house. In my backyard, a border of pines provides a valuable windbreak for these broadleaf evergreens. Plant them in spring or fall, and remember hollies are dioecious, so you’ll need a male nearby so the female will produce berries.
Here are a few hollies for the Midwest. Check out area arboretums for a first-hand look at some wonderful holly collecitons.
•American Holly: (Ilex opaca) Similar to English holly but with duller leaves that have exceptionally sharp spines. The trees tend to be pyramidal in shape and make great barrier plants.
•Hybrid Holly: Includes countless options, one of the most popular being the Meserve hybrids (Ilex x. meserveae) with their deep green leaves.
•Deciduous Holly: These varieties lose their leaves to display branches laden with berries in winter, hence the common name of winterberry (I. verticillata), as well as possumhaw (I. decidua).
· Miscellaneous Evergreen Varieties: To further entice you, there’s Inkberry (I. glabra) and golden-leaved holly like Ilex attenuata ‘Sunny Foster’ as well as Asiatic varieties such as longstalk (I. pedunculosa) with its long suspended cherry-like fruit clusters.