Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Holly Time

The second year we were in our bucolic manor, we replanted the front gardens and added two little holly bushes.  They were so tiny and cute.  Round little balls of wintery happiness.  They are loaded up with berries this year, which, according to an old wives' tale, means we are in for an exceptionally harsh winter.

Of course, now the bushes are 5 foot wide sprawling prickly plants that block the walkway and shade out the peonies and coral bells.  Bees swarm around them in the summer and the fallen berries make a slippery mess on the walk in the fall.  Snow piles up on the unpruned branches, splitting open the bushes furthering their sprawling shape.  If we leave these too much longer without proper pruning we will end up hating them!  So, next Spring this gal and her sister are going to get a styling new haircut.

When I picked out the bushes, I really didn't know much about them at all.  We just thought we needed something to look at in the garden during the winter and holly seemed a natural choice.  For example, I didn't know that only the female holly bushes have berries - the male ones don't.  I only got female ones. Fortunately for us, our neighbors have a male holly and the bees take care of the pollen delivery for us.

These hollies are Ilex opaca 'Canary', an American holly.  They will grow up to 40-feet tall.  I planted them 4-feet away from the front porch.  This is yet another reason why they have to be pruned.  I now know that even if we prune them for all they're worth they will still want to grow tall and we need to take that into consideration as we prune.

Our pup is not allowed to munch on them.  They are poisonous to dogs and she could get an upset stomach (or worse) if she were to make a meal out of them.  Fortunately she doesn't notice them much at all - unless there's a chipmunk hiding underneath.

They need to be fed.  So we give them Holly-tone twice a year in Spring and Fall.  They get sunburned and the leaves turn bronze and fall off.  The first year I saw this happen I was in an absolute panic!  I was sure I had killed them.  I rushed off to the nursery to find out just what to do - could they be saved?  Sunburn - who would have thought? - so now we just trim off those bits and don't worry about it so much.  They can't stand salt from the walkway, even if we are really careful it ends up melting off into their soil.  So when it ices up, we use potassium chloride on that section of the walk and that has an added bonus of fertilizing them.

And, of course, they feed a lot of bees and other native pollinators in the summer as well as the birds in the winter.  One of the nicest things I like about them is taking a few springs of holly berries and using it in our winter decorations and gift packaging.  It always looks so fresh - a reminder of Spring during the dark days of Winter.

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