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Ilex x meserveae ‘Castle Wall’ (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Ilex x meserveae ‘Castle Wall’ (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Zones 3-9, 14-17, 32, 34, 35, 37-39
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Regular Water

Ilex x meserveae

Evergreen, Shrubs


Many hundreds of species and hybrids exist. Smaller kinds are attractive as foundation plantings or low hedges; larger evergreen sorts make attractive and impenetrable tall hedges or screens. In size, they range from foot-high dwarfs to trees 40–50 ft. tall. 

Nearly all holly plants are either male or female, and as a rule both sexes must be present in order for female plants to set fruit. Best bet is to plant a male of the same species as the fruiting females; if you use a different species, berries will form only if both plants flower at the same time. 

Most hollies prefer rich, slightly acid garden soil with good water drainage. (A few exceptions are noted.) All appreciate a mulch to deter weeds and keep soil cool and moist. Though plants will grow in sun or part shade, choose a sunny spot for best berry production and most compact growth. Scale can cause problems in all holly-growing areas. Holly bud moth and leaf miner need attention on English holly in the Northwest; for control, employ only products currently registered for use against those pests. Diseases are rarely a problem for home gardeners.

Most hollies tend to be dense and symmetrical. Prune mainly to remove poorly placed, broken, or dead branches. Winter holiday season is a good time to prune, because clipped branches can be used for indoor decoration. You can restore a holly that has become too open or ragged by severely shortening its branches and allowing new growth to fill in. Small-leafed hollies can be sheared into formal hedges or topiary figures.

Ilex x meserveae

Evergreen shrub. Most plants in this category are hybrids between I. aquifolium and a cold-tolerant species from northern Japan. Dense, bushy plants; apparently the hardiest of hollies with the true holly look. Grows to 10 ft. tall and wide, though is more commonly seen 3–5 ft. tall and broad. Purple stems and spiny, glossy blue-green leaves. Red-fruiting female varieties include ‘Blue Girl’ and ‘Blue Princess’; male pollenizers include ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Blue Prince’. ‘Golden Girl’ has yellow berries. ‘Castle Wall’ is a columnar variety that can reach 8 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide, with shiny dark green leaves and red berries. ‘China Boy’ and red-fruited ‘China Girl’ are crosses between I. cornuta and the northern Japanese species; slightly hardier and more tolerant of summer heat than the other hybrids.

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