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Living with holly...the other 11 months of the year.

Many holly plants come into suburban gardens as Christmas gifts. Likely, the new owners plant them without fully knowing what they're dealing with. For such homeowners, here's a guide to living with holly. Because it's Christmas, we start with pruning and berry harvesting--which can wisely be one operation.

Pruning and berry harvesting:

do both at the same time

Hollies are generally a vigorous lot, with densely packed leaves crowding the outside of the canopy. This has its advantages, but it means you shold prune the plants every year to keep them healthy. One of the best time to prune is during the holidays, when you can give sprays and berries to wreath-makingg friends. The secret is to make your cuts evenly all over the tree. You'll find that the spiniest leaves grow low on the tree. Those higher up may have no spines at all.

On a holly plant, unlike many other trees and shrubs, you can make a cut anywhere on the branch--it's okay to leave stubs. But remember that almost every cut will give rise to two to four new branches. Also, each berried branch you cut takes with it the buds that make next year's berries (see drawing on page 206).

In especially dense areas, cut branches well back into the tree to open up the canopy. If you don't, competition for light will favor long, spindly branches with dense foliage on the ends. These rarely gain the strength necessary to become strong, horizontal scaffold branches.

Also keep the inside of the tree cleared of new growth, since branches that form there tend either to remain weak or to turn up and form would-be trunks. If you're after a more tree-like look, top the plant every third year. That, along with thinning, can give you a holly that looks remarkably like a small, handsome, evergreen oak.

If you don't care about saving the prunnings, you can simply shear the holly into a hedge orr topiary, occasionally thinning out the inside of the plant. Do the shearing once in spring after berries have started to wither, then again in September.

Place holly where it will work for you

When you buy or acquire a holly, find out how bit it gets, whether it's male, female, or self-fertile, and what the berries will look like. (For pictures of seven kinds, see page 202.) Ask the nurseryman or the gift giver, or look it up in the Sunset Western Garden Book.

Since most hollies have spiny leaves, set out new plants where their leaves won't fight you. Keep hollies away from patios and entryways: they'd be likely to snag sweaters and scratch bare-armed passersby. Also avoid planting them beside lawns, walkways, and paths where people walk barefoot.

Instead, put them where you can admire their evergreen beauty from a safe distance; the best spot will be in full sun, where plants will be more compact and berries more prolific.

Some gardeners also use holly's prickly leaves to advantage, planting them as barrier hedges or under windows to discourage break-ins. One caution, however: the holly that keeps the burglar away from the window also makes the window washer's job all the more difficult.

Because most hollies have fairly dark leaves, the large ones make good background plants for smaller flowering trees and shrubs. Small hollies, which excel behind borders and along foundations, are also good foils for flowering plants.

Starting with seedlings or cuttings

If berry-bearing hollies grow in the neighborhood, chances are that seedlings will appear in your garden, especially under trees and in shrub borders. The majority of these seedlings will be male.

While male plants do have good-looking foliage, they don't produce berries, so their principal use is pollination of female hollies, most of which won't make berries without fertilization.

To propagate any holly you like, take pencil-size cuttings this month, dip in rooting hormone, and start in a flat of damp sand and peat (bottom heat and a plastic tent over the flat will dramatically increase your rate of success). You can transplant the rooted hollies into pots or the ground in summer.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1985
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