Published on 10/16/03

Hollies durable, popular in Georgia landscapes

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

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 introduced each year. They belong to the genus Ilex, which is native to every continent except Antarctica.

We usually think of hollies as small trees that give us Christmas color with their red berries and green, spiny leaves. But many hollies are nothing like that. They can range in height, for instance, from 18 inches to more than 50 feet.

From the majestic, conical Nellie R. Stevens to the delicately branched, low-growing Helleri, there is a holly out there for everyone.

Durable, versatile, popular

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. 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.

Landscape uses of hollies can vary almost as much as the different shapes, sizes, textures and colors they come in. They're used as foundation plants and for screens, hedges, accent plants, mass planting or specimen trees.

How big?

Consider the ultimate size and shape of the mature plant when you select a holly. The 3-foot Fosteri holly at the nursery can grow upwards of 40 feet and spread out to 20 feet.

Give each plant plenty of room to grow. 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 consider placing these plants where others can see their showy display. Allow sunlight to hit the fruit to provide an interesting contrast when you're looking from inside the house or from another vantage point.

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

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 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, 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.

(Bob Westerfield is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bob Westerfield is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.