Among the many species of holly, consider growing Burford Holly, Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’, hardy in zones 7-10. It is a perfect shrub for winter interest with shiny, dark green, almost spineless leaves that won’t prick you and brilliant red berries. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy its floral nectar in spring and many other birds feast on the berry buffet in fall and winter. It will grow 10-14 ft. tall and 6-10 ft. wide, but can be pruned to a more compact size. It is a wonderful landscape focal accent or evergreen hedge. For a diminutive version, select the 4-6 ft. tall Dwarf Burford Holly. Until established, provide regular water especially during warm weather, but is also ideal for Mediterranean conditions. Plant from containers in spring or in fall where winters are mild and site in full sun with amended, well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Prune for desired shape and fertilize with a slow release or organic fertilizer formulated for holly shrubs just before new growth in spring. Once established, Burford Holly is water thrifty, but for optimum blooms and berries, water regularly.
Another holly that grows well in zones 6-9 is Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’ a variegated English holly that is an evergreen shrub with glossy, deep green, sharply pointed leaves edged in creamy hues. It can reach up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide that bears petite white flowers in spring followed by bright, red ornamental berries if grown with a male pollinator. Plant this Ilex in partial to full sun in well-drained soil and water deeply about once a week. The key is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Feed in spring with a slow release or organic fertilizer formulated for evergreen shrubs in the early spring. Before new growth emerges, wear sturdy gloves to protect against the prickly-edged leaves and prune the plant for shape or to cut off any dead, diseased or crossing branches and to promote good air circulation.
There are a couple of caveats. Although the berries are decorative, particularly during bleak winter months, they are toxic to humans and pets, but are an important food source for birds and other animals. It reseeds easily, and it is because of this vigor, that some states such as Washington have put Ilex aquifolium on the invasive plant list.
While decking your halls with boughs of holly, consider planting holly in your garden for year-round interest, beauty and food for bees, butterflies and birds. To our Garden America friends, may this be the best time of the year…and have a holly, jolly holiday season!