In the Garden: Holly

Thanks to Ohio nurseryman Paul Hanslik, Midwesterners today have over 100 hardy and deer-resistant holly varieties to plant in their landscapes. According to an article in the December issue of Midwest Living, Hanslik started with a few cuttings from Dawes Arboretum in Newark and has since cultivated more than 100 varieties to become the country’s largest American holly grower.

Valued as a Christmas decoration, holly’s prickly leaves are symbolic of Jesus’ crown of thorns and their berries represent drops of blood shed for humanity’s salvation as noted in the carol, “The Holly and The Ivy.”

In the backyard, holly can be planted singly as an accent plant or grouped near a home’s foundation, as a border or in a hedge. These plants prefer full sun, slightly acidic soil and shelter from winter winds. The east and south sides of a house offer the best shelter. I amend the soil around our hollies with peat and then mulch them with pine bark. 

Hollies produce male and female flowers on separate plants, so homeowners need to plant a male plant within 30 feet of a female to yield berries. The berries range in color from yellow (Canary’) to bright red (Satyr Hill). Leaves vary from blue-green to dark green to variegated. Holly trees and shrubs are sometimes deciduous, but more often evergreen. Prune hollies in late spring.

Christmas Tree Recycling
After Christmas, consider placing your tree in the yard or garden for use by birds and other wildlife. The branches provide shelter from strong winds and cold. Another option is to prune off the branches and place the boughs over perennials as a winter mulch.

Teresa Woodard is a volunteer with the Madison County Master Gardeners. Questions and gardening news items are welcomed at 740-852-0809 or by e-mail at

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