Whether used as foundation plants or specimens, hollies (Ilex spp.) are valuable additions to home landscapes. The spiny evergreen types make formidable hedges. Hollies grow best in rich, well-drained soil that's slightly acid and are best transplanted in the fall. Hardiness depends on cultivar so check plant labels carefully. Several different species of hollies have variegated cultivars.
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The Meserve or blue hollies (Ilex x meserveae) are cold-hardy evergreen hybrids that grow well as far north as U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 5. The leaves on Meserve hollies are dark and glossy, with spiny edges. The Honey Maid and Gretchen cultivars have dark, bluish-green leaves with yellow splotches and margins. These shrubs grow 6 feet tall and have bright red fruit in winter.
Slow-growing and drought-tolerant, Japanese hollies (I. crenata) are common evergreens in zones 6 through 8, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South. They make good substitutes for finicky boxwoods. Japanese hollies grow in shade and tolerate shearing well, making good hedges. Variegated cultivars include Midas Touch, with yellow and green variegated leaves and the ivory-variegated Snowflake. All Japanese hollies have black berries.
Tall and spreading, English holly trees (I. aquifolium) are rarely seen in the United States except on the West Coast and in Hawaii. The evergreen leaves are smooth and glossy, with spiny margins. Berries come in red-orange, yellow, white and black and are produced on female trees, so a male must be planted nearby for pollination. Variegated cultivars available include Lily Gold, with golden-yellow variegated leaves, Silvery and Silver Queen, both with silver margins and Pinto, with green leaves splodged in the centre with gold.
Chinese hollies (I. cornuta) are large shrubs or small trees, growing 10 to 20 feet high depending on cultivar. Chinese hollies produce berries without pollination, so you don't need both male and female plants. The cultivar Variegated Needlepoint has long leaves with a single spine at the end and narrow white margins. It's sometimes labelled as Variegated Anicet Delcambre. Chinese hollies grow well in zones 7 to 9 and are drought-tolerant.
A native North American tree, American hollies (I. opaca) are valued for their shiny leaves and bright berries. In addition, these large plants provide shelter for birds and other wildlife that eat the berries in winter. The variegated cultivar Steward's Silver Crown has cream-edged leaves and bright red fruit. It grows 20 feet tall and is very hardy, growing as far north as zone 5.
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- University of Connecticut: Ilex x Meserveae
- Jefferson Davis Community College: American Holly
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Hollies For the Landscape in the Southeast
- North Carolina State University: Ilex Crenata
- University of Wisconsin; English Holly; Kaycee Lee Rebergi; April 2009
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Holly; Marjan Kluepfel, et al.; March 2007