Heroic Hollies

You could build an entire landscape using hollies almost exclusively. Whatever size and growth form you need, there’s a holly to match it.

Carissa hollies on left. Dwarf Chinese hollies on right on right. Plants survived February 2021 cold spell unscathed. Have seldom been trimmed, and never by more than 1-2 inches.

The Carissa hollies on the left are growing where Snow White Indian hawthorns came down with a really early case of Entomosporium fungal leaf spot probably 35 years ago.

Other than not having flowers (or the fungal leaf spot), the Carissas have looked a great deal like my old hawthorns, but they have been far better suited to the shade that has crept over this bed. The hollies have thrived ever since.

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And to the right are 45-year-old dwarf Chinese hollies. I love this shrub, but you don’t see it being used much any more. It has certainly done beautifully at the base of our giant pecan tree. I shear it lightly each February to maintain a symmetrical form, but otherwise I just leave it alone.

After growing faithfully in our landscape for 35 years, our dwarf Chinese hollies “suddenly” started producing berries each year. They haven’t stopped since, even this year with all the cold from last February.

The coolest thing that’s happened to my dwarf Chinese hollies in recent years is that they have started producing berries each winter. I always throught they were male plants and therefore would be incapable of fruiting, but they now bear nice crops of fruit each winter. It’s handsome with our white Christmas lights alongside.

When I suggest that people might consider either of these plants along a sidewalk or patio I’m often greeted with a howl of complaint: “They’ll hurt me with their leaves.”

I can honestly tell you that in all those decades of having these plants alongside our front walk, I’ve never had one person complain of being hurt. Don’t let that scare you out of trying hollies in your own garden designs.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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