Nancy Brachey

Hollies glow in the Piedmont winter

Burford holly is a popular choice for landscapes for its bright red berries and glossy green foliage
Burford holly is a popular choice for landscapes for its bright red berries and glossy green foliage Observer file photo

If any group of plants can range from boring to beautiful, it is the hollies. The beautiful ones grab our attention in winter, when bright red berries glow against glossy green foliage. Some even lack the foliage, but branches of closely packed red berries stand out in the landscape.

These choice plants especially grab our attention in December when holly stars on cards, calendars, even china. And when selections are made carefully, they also star in the landscape, whether as a long stretch of tall hedge or a single plant set amid a group of nice shrubs.

The range of choices is almost too much, but it helps to consider the space and purpose you have in mind.

The best evergreen hollies with red berries tend to be large plants. Nellie Stevens and Fosters No. 2, to name several old favorites in the Piedmont landscape, grow quite large. Even the dwarf Burford, which produces a whopping amount of red berries, can hit 10 feet, as will the beautiful Perny holly, whose foliage is lovely. It can go to about 12 feet, but is rather slender, spreading about 4 feet.

And the very beautiful American holly will grow slowly into a large tree 40 to 50 feet tall. It is well worth the time and space it requires. But do not try to tuck these gorgeous plants into a small space, because it will lead to much unfortunate pruning and the plants will never look glorious.

Another type of holly worth considering is the deciduous, which drops its leaves in autumn to reveal long branches packed with red berries. This is an ideal plant for flower arrangers who enjoy the dramatic flourish they add to a bouquet. But they are also beautiful in the landscape, where the berries really stand out from late autumn into winter.

Red Sprite and Winter Red are two choices among these winterberries. Red Sprite is a valuable choice because it matures at 4 to 5 feet or higher, making it suitable for a home landscape. Winter Red can reach 9 feet over time. Both produce female flowers that require a male pollinator to get the desired berries. Jim Dandy is a common pollinator, but others exist.

I mention these plants now for two reasons. It is ideal planting time for shrubs and trees. Plus, when you visit garden centers and view the selections, you can see how the berries look as well as the evergreen foliage or leafless branches. Hollies require reasonably good soil with full sun to light shade.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. I was told there is another kind of dogwood that does well here. What is its name?

A. You are probably thinking of the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). This is a wonderful small tree whose white blooms follow the native dogwoods (Cornus florida) in mid-spring. It has an elegant shape, upright in youth, then becoming more broad and rounded with age.