Evergreens For Winter Interest: Growing Holly In Gardens

By Mary Ellen Ellis | December 15, 2020
Image by LesyaD
by Mary Ellen Ellis
December 15, 2020

I’ve never been a huge fan of evergreens, but I do like holly, especially American and English holly. These cheerful, broadleaf evergreens are the quintessential Christmas hollies, but I enjoy the prickly leaves, red berries and form all year.

Why I Like Evergreen Hollies

There are hundreds of both shrubs and trees in the holly family, including winterberry, native in my state of Michigan. Evergreens have never been favorite plants for me “” the needles are unimpressive and messy, and they often look sparse and thin.

But I do love holly evergreens for winter. This probably has something to do with the Christmas season, a favorite for me. The festive green leaves and bright red berries are quintessential Christmas decorations. I also enjoy the shrubs because I can shape them into hedges and for the unique foliage.

Another interesting fact about holly draws me to it as well. It can serve as a break-in deterrent. Plant holly beneath your first-floor window and burglars may think twice about trying to fight through the scratchy leaves.

Growing Holly Shrubs

At my childhood home we had holly shrubs at several of our first-floor windows. My parents let them grow a little wild, but if you have the patience, and some thick, long gloves, holly bushes can be trimmed into tight hedges, rounded shapes, or even a Christmas tree shape.

English holly grows best in zones 7 through 9 but can also be grown in zone 6. It prefers full sun and soil that drains well and stays a little moist, but a great thing about holly is that it tolerates less than perfect conditions. If you are in a hotter part of the climate range, a little shade will help the holly in the summer months.

If you don’t want your holly to become a 40-foot (12 meter) tree, you will need to trim into shrub shape. Winter is a good time for regular trims, after the shrub has finished producing berries. Summer pruning may limit berry production.

Put in a new holly bush in fall when it has a chance to grow roots and take in water after the heat of summer and before the winter freeze. Water regularly until the ground freezes. Mulch around the base will protect new roots in winter and help hold in moisture in the summer.

I love holly in front of a window, but don’t limit your use of this pretty shrub. It makes a great privacy hedge and a focal point and backdrop for perennial beds. For winter interest, plant ornamental grasses in front of holly. The grass stays in place for winter adding another layer of texture and color.

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