Holly, for the Holidays

The evergreen, natural plants associated with holidays are our favourite: the poinsettia, the fir trees, and mistletoe. It is a parasite which attaches to trees and draws water and nutrients. Our favourite is the holly, even though no presents are allowed under it.

When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, a large holly tree grew against one of the outbuildings. The bush was partially shaded by Douglas firs, only a few yards away. It grew up to the roof yearly and provided a bounty in sprigs of red berries and green leaves each year.

Each year, we would cut a few boxes of sprigs around Thanksgiving. We let them dry in the attic for a few weeks before using them to decorate our home. They were always laid along the length of our mantelpiece and held on to either side by two candles in the holders. Our families lived on the high plains, where holly wasn’t grown. We sent holly to them. We used the sprigs as packing material for our presents. My sister stated that the prickly leaves kept young children from climbing into the box to peek at what was underneath. They used the box to make the decorations for their mantelpieces and holiday centrepieces.

Holly has been associated for many years with religious holidays and ceremonies. The Druids used it in Northern Europe to make crowns for celebrations. As a Roman god Saturn, holly was often worn on his head. Christians loved holly because of its symbolism, crown-of-thorns, and bright red berries, which suggested the blood shed for Christ.

There are more than 400 different types of holly that come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The American Holly is the traditional Christmas holly ( Ilex Opaca). Some hollies, such as winterberry, are deciduous and shed their leaves during the fall. Some hollies, such as the Japanese and Chinese, are shrubs. Most hollies need fertilization (male and female plants) to produce berries. Only a few hollies can produce fruit without the help of a male plant.

Holly is a stunning plant with deep green shiny leaves and bright red berries. Although it can’t grow everywhere, you can care for it outside its normal range of the east, southwest, and northwest. If you provide the right conditions, holly will reap its rewards like any other plant. These conditions can include either full sun or partial shade. Good drainage is important, and plenty of moisture and moderately high humidity are essential. Holly prefers soil with a pH of slightly acidic. Holly is not tolerant of alkaline soil.

It is recommended that you fertilize your plants only once a year. Compost is a great side-dressing option for your holly shrub. Your holly will not fruit if there is too much nitrogen in your soil. This is probably why the holly I planted south of our chicken coop didn’t produce a single berry. However, it could have been due to too much nitrogen in the soil.

American holly is not able to grow anywhere, as we stated. The mountain west is too dry and the soil too alkaline for the type of holly that we associate with the holidays. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plant holly. Some cultivars can grow in zones below five but not four. While they may not be the most common Christmas holly plant, they can still serve useful purposes in your landscape, such as bordering hedgerows, corner anchors and ground cover.

The Oregon grape is a holly, which is common in mountain regions. It adds beauty to the garden. I. I. Visit this Colorado State University Extension site to learn more about hollies in the west and how to grow them. While wild hollies might be useful for your holiday needs, they may not all be welcome.


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