When thoughts turn to Christmas it’s hard not to think about Holly – especially as if you happen to be doing any shopping at this time of year you’ll probably be seeing it everywhere!
Anybody growing a holly tree will tell you the joy they’ve had raiding the branches for creating homemade wreaths and garlands, a great activity for keeping kids occupied in the exciting run up to Christmas! Holly sprigs are also marvellous when added to a winter bouquet and can be painted or sprayed silver for a truly dazzling display.
In general our most common holly is the Ilex aquifolium also known as the English Holly, a glossy green prickly leafed shrub with bright red berries to brighten up a winter garden.
Hollies tend to be shapely, architectural plants that will happily hold there own as a stand-alone feature. In the garden evergreen hollies are an excellent choice. The iconic prickly leaves will give all year round pleasure with vivid new growth in spring and summer and in winter the female plants will be laden with berries. Holly bushes are dioecious, meaning they need male and female plants to pollinate, and without pollination you won’t get any berries. In general you only need to have one male plant nearby and it will pollinate multiple females.
Tips for the wildlife friendly gardener.
The female plants produce flowers that will later turn in to berries in winter – great for birds.
The male plants produce flowers that make pollen – great for birds and butterflies! Despite their very subtle scent you will notice lots of honey bees and other pollinating insects hovering around your holly bushes in the spring.
Holly hedges make excellent homes for birds and wildlife, the prickly leaves excellent for winter protection.
Plant out in full sun, or partial shade and they prefer well drained, sandy soil but will cope with most soils as long as there is good drainage. Give them a good mulching. Hollies don’t like to be disturbed and are slow growers, sometimes not really showing any progress for 2-3 years however a mature shrub is well worth the wait!
You shouldn’t need to prune hollies too much as they will form a good shape by themselves however if you do need to do a little light pruning to remove damaged, diseased wood do it in late winter or early spring. Mulch and feed after pruning.