A jolly holly bush: Southeast Missouri lies on northern edge of natural holly range

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the late 1950s, Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve developed the Ilex x meserveae hybrids from the parents of Ilex rugosa (prostrate holly) and Ilex aquifolium (English holly). For her work she received the American Horticultural Society's Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Amateur Horticulture. You can see a few of these plants growing in the area today, but I think area gardeners should give these hybrids more attention.

Southeast Missouri is just on the northern edge of the holly natural range. The advantage of these hybrids is they can with stand temperatures down to minus-20 F. Therefore they can do well in our climate.

Since these hollies are broadleaf evergreens, it is best to spray them one time in the fall with an anti-transpirant such as Antistress 2000. This application reduces the chance of winter burn, a condition that develops during midwinter warm-ups.

You can add foliage color during the growing season to your landscape depending upon the variety you select. China Boy and China Girl have nice green foliage, while Blue Girl, Blue Boy, Blue Prince and Blue Princess have blue green leaves.

In the winter, the dark red berries provide splashes of color against the background of evergreen foliage. The berries also attract birds. In my mind I picture a male cardinal pecking on the red berries of a Blue Girl holly that is covered with fresh snow. What a beautiful winter sight.

One advantage to these hollies is that they can grow in both sun and shade. Since many of the landscapes in the area have both sun and shade, this plant can fit either situation.

An added bonus to the meserveae hybrids is that they are deer resistant. This characteristic may become important in the future as we experience increases in urban deer herd populations.

One interesting characteristic of the holly is that it generally requires the presence of a boy plant in the area for the girl plant to produce berries. I usually plant one male in a landscape to enhance berry production.

Plant the meserveae hollies as a foundation, in mass, or as an evergreen hedge. In all configurations they show and grow quite well.

The only down side is that if left alone, they can grow to more than 4 feet tall and wide. If used as a foundation plant, a little pruning each year can eliminate this problem. Prune during December and use the cuttings in Christmas decorations and floral arrangements. They make any room look like the holidays.

If you are landscaping you may want to consider the meserveae hollies. They provide year-round color and will thrive in most landscape situations in the area.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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