Tom Culb, Horticulturalist
Holly has been a favorite decoration for winter celebrations for centuries. Ancient cultures believed holly to be a symbol of longevity, with vibrant red berries and green leaves seen in the dead of winter.
The king wore a holly crown for good luck. Holly was also believed to repel witches.
I’m not too worried about witches, but growing holly and using it in homemade holiday decorations is great.
It’s too cold here to grow evergreen holly in North Dakota. But you can grow Winterberry, the best holly in the North.
The winterberry sheds its leaves in autumn to reveal bright red and orange berries. These fruits are a wonderful addition to a snowy winter landscape. Fruit-filled branches can be cut in early winter and used as a fresh, long-lasting decoration.
Cultivation of winterberries requires special care. Shrubs prefer acidic soil, so you will need to make the planting area acidic. Start with a soil test to measure the current pH. If the pH is manageable (7.5 or less), it can be made suitable for holly.
Add an 8 inch mound of peat moss and the recommended amount of sulfur to the site. Mix this into the soil. The pH should be monitored annually to keep it acidic and keep the holly healthy.
Next, it’s important to know that there are male and female holly bushes. Only female bushes bear fruit. Holly males are fruitless and unassuming, but you need one within 50 feet of her to pollinate a female.
One male can pollinate about 10 female shrubs. If you’re buying female holly, choose a compatible male holly that blooms at the same time.
Winter Red is one of the finest varieties. This female shrub displays abundant red berries that persist all winter. The rounded shrub grows slowly and reaches 8 feet in height. Use the Southern Gentleman as a male.
There are compact varieties of winterberry. These grow to about 4 feet tall and fit easily into your home landscape. Berry Poppins is dazzling in the winter landscape. Use Mr. Poppins as the male.
Red Sprite is another great compact choice. Its fruits are large and dark red. As a bonus, summer Red Sprite leaves are dark green and glossy. Jim Dandy is the recommended male pollinator.
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