Durable hollies make attractive hedges, screens

Gardening in Gwinnett by Timothy Daly

Georgia is blessed with a climate that allows a broad range of ornamentals in the landscape. Perhaps no landscape plant is more durable or comes in as many shapes and sizes as the holly.

Hollies come in more than 300 recognized varieties, with more being introduced each year. They belong to the genus Ilex, which is native to every continent except Antarctica. They grow well here in Georgia, and once established, are quite easy to maintain.

When we think of hollies, we often thing of the small green trees with red berries and green, spiny leaves that give us Christmas color. But many hollies are nothing like that. They can range in height from 18 inches to more than 50 feet.

From the majestic, conical Nellie R. Stevens to the delicately branched, low-growing Helleri, there's a holly out there for everyone. Smaller hollies are attractive as foundation plantings or low hedges. Larger evergreen hollies make impenetrable hedges or screens.

Using plants with many textures and colors is an important consideration when planning your landscape, and hollies can provide outstanding color and texture contrast. Some have coarse texture and dark green color, such as Burford holly. Others, like dwarf Yaupon holly, have a much finer texture and lighter color.

Consider the ultimate size and shape of the mature plant when you select a holly. The 3-foot Foster holly at the nursery can grow upwards of 40 feet and spread out to 20 feet. Therefore, be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow.

Many hollies produce beautiful clusters of colorful berries in the fall or winter. These aren't only attractive but can provide food for birds, too. You may want to consider placing these plants where others can see their showy display of berries.

About those berries, remember that hollies are either male or female and only the females produce fruit. For pollination to occur in some species, a male plant must be nearby. If your next-door neighbor has the same species holly and has a male, it will most likely pollinate your plant. Bees provide some pollination between different species, too, and other hollies can set fruit on their own, without any pollination.

If you've ever wondered why your holly has never had berries, chances are that either you only have a male plant or you have a female with no pollinator nearby. With the number of hollies in landscapes today, though, this is rarely a problem unless you live way out in the woods away from everyone.

Although hollies are extremely tough once they're established, they do have some requirements. They prefer well-drained soil that's amended with organic matter and is slightly acidic. Wet soils that are heavily compacted will lead to weak plants.

Hollies respond well to mulching and light fertilization. While many will grow in partial shade, most will produce a better berry crop if given full sunlight. Maintenance requirements will include pruning, as well as controlling leaf miners, Japanese wax scale and redmites.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.