High Tide

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Hollies: A Jolly South Jersey Winter Favorite

holly berriesIt is time to write about one of my favorite trees, the Holly. They are so glorious this time of the year and they grow so well in our area they deserve a yearly applause.

There are many types of Hollies and most are evergreen. A few even lose their leaves – spot lighting their brilliant berries in winter. All hollies have the common name Ilex. One of the natives found growing here is the towering American holly whose botanical name is Ilex opaca. Most Hollies like a well drained, but moist, soil with lots of woodsy humus. They do fine in acid soil and will grow in full sun or light shade. Large groupings of Holly are often found deep in South Jersey swamps. In yards, mulch will simulate a woodland environment and keep these woodlanders’ roots cool.

One lesser-known Holly that is just becoming popular in our area is the awesome Foster Holly. It is glossy and shiny with tons of red berries. One good thing about it for most homeowners is that it does not get as large and bulky as the huge American Holly.

These winterberry  hollies often stump folks who think all hollies have sticky evergreen foliage.

Leaves yellow and fall when there is frost. These Winter Berry Hollies often stump folks who think all Hollies have sticky evergreen foliage. These swamp dwellers grow every where in southern N J . You might have to venture off the couch and into the swamp to find them!

Foster Holly is a hybrid that occurred between a narrow-leafed form of the Dahoon Holly as the female parent and American Holly as the male in the union. The trees grow 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 feet, giving them a narrow, conical form. The thin leaves have very soft spines so they do not pinch like the American holly. The female produces an abundance of red, pea-sized fruit even on young plants. The male pollinator can be either a Foster or a more common American Holly.

Foster holly is an excellent plant for planting near an entry or off the corner of the house to provide vertical accent. Like most plants with this strikingly conical form, it can be grown as a freestanding specimen or massed together. It also makes an excellent tall evergreen screen.

Like most Hollies, Foster Holly does best in a reasonably good garden soil where it can receive some water during dry periods. The soil pH should be on the acid side. While best in full sun, it will do well in medium shade.

All Holly trees can be sheared as needed or left to their own devices. If plants ever get too large, they can be stubbed back severely in the spring just before new growth starts. Many Hollies will even come back from the root if cut off.

Yellow Holly

Yellow Holly

A Deciduous Holly, like the Winter Berry (Ilex verticillata) loses its leaves to reveal outrageously beautiful red berries. The most handsome stand of Winter Berry is across the creek and only accessible by canoe, so now we planted them along this side of the stream. (For years when our sons were growing up they would take turns on wintry days paddling a canoe so I could precariously lean over into the shrubs and cut branches! Luckily we never capsized!) These are one of my favorite winter plants as the colorful berries last long into late winter, giving beautiful color to the garden.

Most Hollies are dioecious, which means that that the male and female flowers are born on separate plants. Thus you will need at least one male for every five female plants for a good show of berries

When the leaves have all fallen and the landscape becomes bleak, Hollies really stand out and commandeer our appreciation. As I write I look out of my window and notice the glossy holly now filled with songbirds. The leaves act as little umbrellas and protect birds from rain and snow and the berries provide food. More distant are huge Pines, Spruce and Hollies around the perimeter of the property, as well as a native Cedar covered with blue berries these all give color and life to the garden in wreathsnowwinter. My Dad and my Uncle Ed, who both loved Hollies, planted many of these more than 40 years ago.

As a child I spent many summer hours watering hundreds of Hollies. Dad collected Hollies. He would find small ones in the woods and move them to our yard. He would also buy unusual ones wherever he could find them. He always took great care of them. The summer he moved the trees the block or two from our old house to our new house, my brother and I spent our days watering them. We would have a pile of comic books and a sturdy milk box that we moved around the perimeter of the large property as we waited for the hose to thoroughly soak each large American Holly. We did a thorough job and every Holly lived, still majestically gracing the property. It was then that I realized that even though he found many of his American Hollies in local fields and woods, because of the bees and genetic variety, they all had their own unique characteristics. The coloring of both the leaves and the berries often differs from one American Holly to another. Today many of theses same Hollies are lofty giants all around both my mother’s and our home.

There are still many other Hollies to highlight in years to come, so we are not finished with them yet. Plant a Holly and enjoy this Southern New Jersey treasure this holiday season.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com