It’s the time of the year for hollies to shine in the landscape.
As a general rule hollies…well…struggle in Kansas. They don’t like how cold it gets, our soil pH, or our heat and drought. Yikes. The only species of holly we can really count on is inkberry holly (Ilex glabra).
It is a beautiful, hardy and high performing plant. As the name implies, the berries are black, or ink-colored. Probably not the bright red berries you were imagining in an article about holly. Fortunately, if you live in southeast Kansas, there is a second holly that is just outstanding: deciduous holly (Ilex decidua). It drops its leaves every fall revealing a brilliant, long-lasting, bright, red berry display.
They are so prolific that they pop up in fence-rows and ditches all over the area. As you move north, though, they are seen less and less as the cold-hardiness catches up with them.
I often say that there are only two hollies that do well in Kansas, but we all know that rules are made to be broken. I love hearing stories of plants unexpectedly out of place. For example, just last year a gardener in Hays shared his Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta) photos to me.
How exciting! Chinese holly is just on the edge of the northern part of Kansas’ cold hardiness zone. If I were a nursery grower in that area, I’d be collecting some seed and cuttings for propagation of those plants!
I recently visited the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension where they showcased winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata). A species that generally prefers acidic soils, it was performing well in the display garden. The bright red berries were already quite eye-catching. Some hollies require a male pollinator cultivar nearby in order to have a good berry set. Winterberry holly is an example of this so you’ll need to keep that in mind when planting this species.
If a local source of holly plants in the landscape is not within reach and you want to decorate with red berries and glossy green foliage, visit your local garden center or search online for a reputable greenery supplier so that you can make your own displays. After all, you’ll want a reliable source to help celebrate the happiness of the holly-days!
credit – Cheryl Boyer