Hollies are tough and attractive plants for the home landscape

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. Hollies are among the most durable and versatile plants in the landscape, withstanding both drought and cold, which certainly lends to their popularity. Using plants with many textures and colors is an important consideration when planning your landscape.

Some of the most popular hollies in use are the Japanese hollies, Chinese hollies, and yaupon hollies. Japanese hollies have small leaves without spines and produce small, black fruit. These type of hollies include: Helleri hollies, small in form and not tolerant of poor drainage; Compacta is small and rarely grows higher than three feet; other types include Hetzi, Rotundifolia, and Repandens.

Chinese hollies are larger, have shiny, green leaves with spines, often produce large amounts of berries, and can grow very large. Burford, Dwarf Burford, and Needlepoint varieties are tough, reliable plants once established and can be used as hedges or screens. Some smaller ones are Rotunda and Carrissa, which have sharp, spiny leaves. If planted under windows, they may discourage burglars.

Yaupon hollies are native to the eastern U.S. and are extremely hardy plants that can withstand heat and drought, and on coastal areas they are tolerant of the wind blowing salt water on them. The very small Nana variety reaches is a small shrub that grows to a height of three to five feet, and the large, weeping Pendula, which can grow to 15 feet in height. And there are a multitude of other types of hollies such as the American holly, English holly, lusterleaf holly, Nellie R. Stevens holly, inkberry, and the deciduous possumhaw and winterberry hollies.

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 three-foot foster holly at the nursery can grow upward of 40 feet and spread out to 20 feet. Therefore, be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow. And consider how the landscape will look years from now, not just how it looks when you plant.

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 select hollies that produce yellow or orange berries in areas of lower light, so they will stand out better.

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 neighbor next door has the same species holly and has a male, it will most likely pollinate your plant. Bees provide some pollination between different species, too, that flower at the same time. Other hollies can set fruit 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, 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 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 and thrive if given full sunlight. Maintenance requirements will include pruning of the vigorous growing cultivars and controlling leaf miner, Japanese wax scale and spider mites.

Timothy Daly, is and agricultural and natural resource extension agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.