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Holly Plants

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2009

Most people think of holly as the green foliage and berries used for decorating during the holiday season. But holly functions in many other capacities -- especially in landscaping with hedges, screenings, and single specimen and group plantings. 

The plants symbolize strength, protection, good will, and everlasting life.

Featured Hollies
The following varieties were featured on the show:

  • Ilex opaca 'Dan Fenton' (Dan Fenton American holly) An improved selection with glossy, lustrous leaves and large, red berries.
  • Ilex aquifolium (English holly) Elegant tree-type holly with glossy, spiny leaves and large glossy red fruit. Zone 6.
  • Ilex aquifolium 'Aureomarginata' (Variegated English holly) A slower growing, less vigorous variety of the species with golden-yellow leaf margins.
  • Ilex cornuta (Chinese holly) A dense, shrubby holly with smooth, dark-green, puckered leaves and deep, reddish-orange berries. Zone 7.
  • Ilex opaca 'Canary' (yellow-fruited American holly) Bright, golden-yellow fruit.
  • Ilex x 'Mary Nell' (Mary Nell holly) A magnificent foliage plant with shiny, green, spiny leaves and a dense, pyramidal growth habit. Zone 6.
  • Ilex decidua (Possumhaw holly) A small to medium deciduous-tree species. Growth habit is quite graceful, and fruit is glossy and dark red. Zone 5.
  • Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold' (wintergold holly) a variety with deep-orange berries that eventually fade to golden yellow.
  • Ilex pedunculosa (longstalk holly) A very unique species with smooth, spineless, lustrous leaves and red berries with long, thin stalks. Reaches 15 to 25 feet tall. Zone 5.
  • Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil' (sky pencil holly) A very handsome variety with a tall, narrow growth habit and dark-green foliage. Works excellently as a foundation planting or narrow screen

Caring for Hollies
Hollies are versatile, hardy plants that are able to adapt to most soil types and light exposures. They are relatively pest-resistant and can tolerate shearing or significant amounts of pruning. Hard pruning should be done during the early spring months before the onset of warm weather. 

Shearing or modest maintenance pruning can be done at anytime during the growing season besides autumn. Holly will grow in varying degrees of both shade and sun and is rather shade-tolerant. In general, hollies will grow from hardiness zones 5 to 9.

Holly benefits from annual fertilizing with a general-purpose fertilizer in the early spring or late autumn. It also benefits from a light layer (1 to 2 inches) of mulch at its base such as pine straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves. In general, hollies prefer slightly acidic soil pH. Hollies should be protected from harsh, damaging winds and sun exposure. During the winter months, hollies should be protected with burlap wraps or anti-desiccants such as Wilt-Pruf.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Vinnie Simeone, director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, New York, for sharing this wonderful information on hollies.