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Connecticut Garden Journal: Holy Holly!

Nov 30, 2017

Oh, by gosh by golly, it's time for mistletoe and holly. Yes, holly shrubs are embedded in our holiday traditions and have a rich history.

Holly sprigs were placed around houses to ward off evil spirits, bad luck, and even fairies. The leaves and berries were used medicinally, and in Celtic folklore at the winter solstice, the Holly King begins his rule.

Holly shrubs can be deciduous or evergreen with male or female plants. You'll need at least one male for every four female plants to get berries.

The deciduous hollies or winterberry is native to the Northeast.

Breeders have created some variations on the traditional red berry color with 'Golden Verboom' producing yellow berries and 'Winter Gold' having apricot-orange colored fruits. Winter berries grow four to seven feet tall in part-to-full sun and thrive in wet areas on poor soils. You'll often see them growing near ponds and in swampy areas.

For the more traditional Christmas holly, try the evergreen species. These are hardy to zone 5. Like the winterberry, you'll need both male and female plants to get berries. Some common varieties include 'Blue Boy' and 'Blue Girl.'

'Honey Jo' and 'Honey Maid' feature variegated yellow and green leaves, while 'Rock Garden' only grows one to two feet tall.

Hollies look best planted in groups where you can enjoy the bright berries and foliage from your home. Birds also love the berries, often cleaning out the fruits in winter.

In spring, amend the soil with sulfur and compost. This time of year, protect tender evergreens with a wrap of burlap to block the cold, desiccating winds.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about Christmas trees. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.