Hollies are a huge symbol of the wonderful Christmas season in DeKalb County. The beautiful bright red berries and glossy green leaves are often used in wreaths and flower arrangements.

Hollies can be deciduous or evergreen, shrub or tree and may be round, weeping, pyramidal or columnar in form. The leaf margins can be spiny or smooth with an alternating leaf pattern. Berries can be red, orange, yellow, black and white depending on the varieties and species. Landscape uses are just as varied because they can be used as foundation planting, screening, hedges, accent plants, mass plantings or specimen trees.

Hollies are dioecious plants which means that male and female flowers are on separate plants. Female plants produce berries and male plants don’t. For best results there must be a male plant of the same variety near by to pollinate female hollies. Low berry development could be due to poor pollination, young immature plants, high nitrogen levels in the soil, or a late spring frost that injured flowers. However, most dwarf hollies never produce berries since they are commonly propagated vegetatively from male plants. There are about 20 popular American species, 125 Oriental types and nearly 200 English varieties, however there are many others of each species.

Most holly cultivars require well-drained soil, full sun, although some species will tolerate partial shade but will produce less berries. They grow best in slightly acidic soils with a pH of 5.0 to 6.0 along with plenty of organic matter, especially in sandy soils. A southern or eastern exposure is ideal with some shelter from wind. Hollies should be planted in early spring and late fall, however container plants can be set out anytime as long as the root ball is loosened before planting. Always dig the planting hole one foot wider than the root ball and at the same depth they were previously growing, also add some organic matter to the hole. After planting, keep the soil moist but avoid over-watering.

Fertilize established hollies in March and again in September with a complete fertilizer such as 15-5-10 or 15-5-15. Only apply one-half cup of granular fertilize per application to hollies with a stem diameter less than one inch. Hollies greater than one inch in stem diameter should receive one cup per application. Fertilize should be spread evenly on the soil surface around the plant up to one foot beyond the end of the branches. Never place fertilizer close to the main stem of the plant. Fertilizers should be thoroughly watered into the soil after application.

I hope you have a joyful Christmas and a fantastic New Year.


Terry Shackelford is a regional extension agent in DeKalb County. His column appears Tuesdays in the Times-Journal.

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