Hollies are what I call workhorse plants. They can be used in a multitude of ways to establish the bones of your garden.
They can serve as focal points, living walls for creating privacy or screening views, low borders or for accenting entries.
I can't imagine my garden without its beautiful, red-berried, evergreen hollies. In the summer they provide a deep green backdrop for my flower borders and in the winter the foliage and berries add interest to an otherwise drab landscape.
Most people think of hollies as the classic 6 point leaf often associated with Christmas decorations but they actually come in a wide range of sizes and growth habits way beyond what first comes to mind. With over 400 known species of evergreen and deciduous hollies, it would probably be safe to say that there is one for just about every situation.
Ilex is such a large and diverse genus of plants that there is a holly for every state in the continental U.S. and one to suit every gardener's taste. The leaves of hollies can be spiny or smooth, various shades of green or variegated and large or small. Berries can be red, black, orange or yellow.
One of my favorite hollies for the South is called possumhaw, Ilex decidua. Its northern counterpart is called winterberry, Ilex verticillata. Both lose their leaves in winter revealing beautiful red berries on gray-brown bark. Possumhaw grows as a small tree and there is nothing like its scarlet berries to break the pall of winter. A well-berried tree can easily be the center of attention in any landscape.
Hollies are one of the easiest plants to grow. They thrive in full sun with well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Some will tolerate shade but the berry production will not be as good.
A well fed holly is a happy holly that will cover itself with berries. I recommend feeding your hollies using a slow release fertilizer with at 10-20-10 ratio. These slow release fertilizers are nice because that can last up to 8 months and you can't apply too much and burn your plants as with traditional granular fertilizers. When you apply the fertilizer use about 1/4 cup per foot. For example, a single specimen of 'Nellie R. Stevens' that is about 10' tall would receive approximately 2 - 3 cups of fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer evenly from the drip line back to the trunk and then just water it in. It is best to fertilize in the spring after the last frost date in your area. This will encourage your plant to set plenty of blooms, which will in turn become berries on a female plant.
Many people ask me why a holly might not produce berries. Well, it could be one of three reasons.
Some plants have to have a male and a female to produce fruit. The shrub may be a pollen producing plant, or a male plant. Or the plant may be a female but no male plant is close enough to pollinate the flowers. Many hollies need a male pollinator within 300 feet to produce berries.
Another reason for little or no berries could be a combination of bad weather and bees. Bees won't go to work unless the temperature is in the high fifties and this means if temperatures are low when the holly flowers are in bloom, they won't get pollinated. If your flowers don't get pollinated then you won't have berries.
A third reason for low berry production is that some plants just take a break. They need a rest. One year they might produce a lot and the next year, maybe none at all.
With such a diverse selection of plants and ease of care, I think you will find a holly that is the perfect addition to your garden.