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Holly is just not suited for front yards

The holly insanity has got to stop.

It's been happening since the 1950s and continues today. It happens in equal measure at modest homes and grand homes, in both instances with impunity.

What I want to know is, why? It's disrespectful of nature, destroys sidewalks and foundations, and is difficult to remove once established. If you decide to keep it, you've got the yearly expense of pruning it into a decidedly ugly green meatball or hideous green gumball on sticks.

Hollies are majestic plants that deserve to thrive in an environment suited to their size. Why keep a plant pruned to 4 feet tall in front of your home when it wishes to grow 35 feet tall?

Please, visit the holly trail at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain (www.callawaygardens.com). You'll discover plants of great beauty, and size, requiring little care and little water. Yes, the disaster planted at the foundation of many homes is the elegant evergreen tree along the trail at Callaway Gardens.

Not all hollies are huge - some really do stop growing under 5 feet high. But many hollies are hidden giants planted under your front windows.

I shouldn't have asked "why" earlier. I know why. To sell a new house, builders must put in plants. My theory is that their theory is to choose based on plant shape only, or the PSO strategy.

Builders who choose to plant holly are being callous. It's aesthetic cruelty to plant something that grows so large it will break the sidewalk to the front door and the foundation of a house. Buyer beware should be understood without being stated.

Simply drive around town to see the PSO theory of landscape design in action. Hollies aren't the only poorly placed plants, but they make up a huge majority. (Though lately loropetalums are catching up.)

Miraculously, hollies can be pruned to 1 foot of the ground and transplanted. They will be naked stems and trunks, but with an honest effort at transplantation they will survive and thrive. The best time to prune and move a giant holly is late November through February. The plants are dormant and will put most of their energy into root growth once moved.

This is also the best time to expect the rains to help you water. Before you move a holly, be sure the plant has been watered well and the spot it is being moved to has been watered well a couple of days before transplanting. Dig the root ball at least one to five feet in radius from the trunk.

If you decide to keep a misplaced holly, maybe you can prune it into a small tree, keeping the bottom bare of foliage and letting the top grow with abandon. Sometimes this is impossible because of a desire to not allow squirrels and rats more access to the roof than necessary.

Don't be squeamish. Rats, like bad landscape design, are all over town. At least the rats have a purpose - survival. Now, giant hollies planted at the foundation of a house, that's insanity.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. Her most recent books include "Garden Paths and Stepping Stones" and "Perennials for Georgia." E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.