Hollies for the Holidays and Landscapes
FROM THE DESK OF - Martha Maletta, Horticultural Consultant

Holly - Genus IlexThe holly in my back yard is loaded with berries this year. Holiday decorations will be spectacular . . , if the local squirrels and robins don't harvest" all the fruit first.

Holly (Genus Ilex) is great for holiday decor - berries or no berries. And the plants are outstanding, year-round assets in the landscape. Many will do well in Hunterdon County.

American Holly, Ilex opaca, a New Jersey native, is available as hardy cultivars that make excellent specimen plants. 'Jersey Princess' and 'Wyetta' are among those recommended. There are some yellow fruited forms.

Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata, is a well known, popular, adaptable evergreen shrub, available as many cultivars which vary in size (from very dwarf to very large) leaf color and even berry color.

Inkberry, Ilex glabra, not as well known as the above species, is an evergreen shrub of neat but not formal growth habit, that deserves wider use. It is tolerant of wet conditions as well as shade and so is an excellent alternative to the more popular rhododendron species which won't survive in wet sites. The cultivar 'Compacta' is most useful in foundation plantings.

Long stalk holly, Ilex pedunculosa, is an excellent small tree that also should be widely used. The dark, glossy leaves are reminiscent of mountain laurel; the bright red berries are borne on long stems. And it is very hardy.

Meserve hollies, Ilex x meservae, 'Blue Angel', 'Blue Princess', Blue Maid' have dark green or blue green glossy leaves and colorful fruit. They tend to have dense, broad growth habits and are quite hardy.

In planting hollies, remember that the female plant bares fruit but that the mail is needed for pollination. Generally, males of the same species as the females are the best pollinators. A male within a few hundred feet of female plants should be satisfactory for pollination which is carried out mainly by honey bees.

One of our showiest hollies, a native of eastern North America, is at its most splendid this time of year. The brilliant red berries, massed along the twigs and set against a snowy backdrop or reflected in an ice bound pond are a spectacular highlight of the winter countryside or landscape. This holly may not be recognized as such because it is deciduous, unlike all the above species. The berry-laden, leaf-free branches make a colorful decoration.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata and the hybrideso of I. verticillata and I. serrata (a Japanese species), is available as named varieties and cultivars that vary in mature plant size (generally large), fruit color (oranges and reds) and size, and leaf characteristics. It tolerates a range of growing conditions: light or heavy soils, acid to neutral pH, full sun to partial shade (although fruiting is best in full sun), and since it grows naturally in swamps and at pond edges, it is suitable for wet sites.

Two popular winterberry hybrids were developed and introduced by Dr. Elwin Orton, Research Professor, Cook College. 'Harvest Red' and 'Autumn Glow' are good plants for the home landscape, being somewhat more modest in size and more refined in texture than the parent species. Some cultivars from other introducers are 'Winter Gold', 'Winter Red', 'Sparkleberry', 'Sunset'.

Nurseries selling winterberry should be able to recommend a pollinator for the cultivars they carry. The key is that the male and female bloom at the same time or that their bloom times overlap. Dr. Orton tells me that 'Raritn Chief, having a long bloom, will probably serve well as pollinator for most winterberries. But, he notes that other factors will influence pollination. Bee activity is critical; and the size and location of the pollinator can be important, too. Plants in full sun will be most productive.