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Have a Jolly Holly Christmas

By Paul James

There was a time when I wasn’t all that keen on hollies. But no more. I’ve got five Burford hollies at one end of my back porch that I love for a variety of reasons — they provide excellent privacy, they’re incredibly carefree, and best of all, they produce red berries that the birds gobble up like bon bons. But do all hollies produce berries?

And the answer is, it depends. Strictly speaking, most hollies are either male or female. The female produces berries, but only when a male is nearby to ensure pollination.

However, some hollies are parthenocarpic, a fancy botanic term that refers to a female that doesn’t need a male to produce berries. (In Greek, it means virgin fruit.) And lucky for me, Burford hollies are among them.

Burford hollies grow to about 12’ by 6’ although they can get larger over time. The dwarf variety tends to get about half that size. I prune mine lightly in early spring just to keep them tidy, but that’s about all I do.

Nellie Stevens is another awesome holly that needs no pollinator. It’s fast growing — up to 3’ a year, maintains a pyramidal form with little or no pruning, and can reach heights of 25’ or so. It’s hugely popular in our neck of the woods, and with good reason.

Christmas Jewel is a great choice if space is limited, and it too is self-fruitful. It grows slowly to about 10’ and as a bonus, has blunt rather than prickly spines

Berri Magic holly has both male and female plants in the same container, so a profusion of berries is guaranteed. It’ll grow to about 10’ tall and 6’ wide.

Oakland holly, another fabulous choice as a specimen or for screening, has both male and female flowers, so it basically pollinates itself, much like tomatoes. And it works as a pollinator for nearby female hollies. It can grow to 15’ tall or more and does well in practically any type of soil, from dry sand to wet clay.

Yaupon hollies are either male or female, but I love them because there are varieties whose females produce red, orange, and even yellow berries. They’re also native, and come in upright, weeping, and dwarf forms.

Emerald Colonnade, unfortunately, is a male and does not produce berries, but I mention it here because it’s a spectacular choice nevertheless, especially as a hedge, for screening, or as a windbreak. It grows at a moderate clip to roughly 10’ tall and 6’ wide.

Nearly all hollies are evergreen, but there are two outstanding deciduous species — Winterberry and Possumhaw. Both are native to swampy areas and will tolerate wet soils. And both can get fairly large — 30’ and 15’, respectively — but their berries remain once their leaves have fallen, and the effect is stunning. Just keep in mind that a pollinator is required.

All hollies grow best with at least a half day of sun, but they aren’t all that picky about soil type and they’re extremely pest and disease resistant. So consider adding a few hollies to your landscape, and feel free to plant them now so you’ll have a jolly holly Christmas.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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2 responses to “Have a Jolly Holly Christmas”

  1. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for this information! I’m a big holly fan, not only for the beautiful berries, but also because the deer tend to leave them be. We also have cardinals near me, and if you’re lucky enough to see one perched on a holly, it certainly puts you in the Holiday mood! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and the family!


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