Garden Clippings for Sept 16, 2017

Ho, ho, ho, have a Holly, Holly Christmas.  No matter what time of the year, whenever I see a Holly (ilex) bush, I think of Christmas.  Holly’s dark green leaves, with sharply toothed margins along with the familiar bright red berries will put the nastiest scrooge in a festive spirit.

Holly is a handsome looking plant full of versatility and show.  Leaves are dark green and very shiny.  The plant is a moderate grower and will never outgrow its location.  White flowers appear in late spring followed by berries that remain green until late summer.

At the end of summer, Holly’s green berries turn to bright red and will remain on the plant until they are cut for indoor arrangements.  If left unpicked, berries persist and remain showy all winter long.

If Holly is such an amazing plant, why has it not gained more prominence in the landscape?

Like the animals on Noah’s ark, Holly needs to be planted two by two.   In our SW Ontario climate Ilex ‘Blue Princess’ is the female Holly of choice, and Ilex ‘Blue Prince’ is obviously its male counterpart.

At the risk of giving a biology lesson, the two need to be planted together, and only the female produces berries.  Gardeners who want a lot of berries may want to know that one ‘Blue Prince’ can act as pollinator for a gaggle, swarm, school or herd of ‘Blue Princesses.’

Nursery growers have recently arrived at a new form of Holly called ‘Berry Magic’ whose claim to fame is two genders planted in one pot.

Blue Prince and Blue Princess Holly are hardy to zone 5 which suits just us just fine in Lambton County’s zone of 6b, but don’t try planting one in Ottawa or Owen Sound, unless it remains covered all winter long in a blanket of snow.

In my home landscape I have 5 beautiful Holly in the front yard on the west side of the house, planted more than a decade ago.  But I had 2 Holly near the garage door that succumbed to the nasty winter of 3 years ago.

Holly is known for its attractive leaves with pointed lobes.  If you lose a tennis ball in the plant, you will want to done a good pair of gloves in order to retrieve it.  Keep the gloves handy when it is time to prune the plant.

Holly is only slightly fussy about its growing conditions.  It does not want to be planted in a waterlogged location and prefers soil that is acidic.   That’s fine for Sarnia-Lambton’s north end sandy soil which for the most part is naturally acidic.  If you want to plant Holly in clay soil, add peat moss to improve drainage and combat the alkalinity.

Last year I pruned my Holly and brought several stems indoors where I enjoyed lots of colour.  When I ran short of ‘Blue Princess’ I cut stems of the ‘Blue Prince’ Holly, added artificial berry stems and nobody was the wiser.