Grow holly - Ilex aquifolium

Grow holly - Ilex aquifolium

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Hollies in the garden

The holly is a small tree or a large evergreen shrub, which can reach ten meters in height, originating from central and southern Europe and part of Asia; in fact in nature it is more probable to find hollies of smaller dimensions, around 3-5 m high, structured as globose shrubs, with a pyramidal crown and one or more main stems. The botanical name is Ilex aquifolium; the foliage is dark green, and these shrubs have a peculiar peculiarity: the young leaves and in the lower part of the shrub are provided with sharp thorns, which make the leaf edge undulated; the older leaves and in the upper part of the shrub instead have a linear margin and have lost the thorns, and therefore are oval in shape.
The stems are very branched, to create a dense crown, the branches have smooth bark and are green or gray; in spring the holly produces small flowers; being a dioecious plant some hollies they have only male flowers, yellowish in color, while others hollies they have only female flowers, white or pink, gathered in bunches at leaf axils.
Only the female flowers will give way to the fruits: round drupes, small in size and red in color; so if we want to cultivate holly which is full of berries, first of all it must be a female specimen, and secondly, nearby there must necessarily be at least one male specimen. Hollies have been grown in Europe for centuries, both as ornamental plants, but above all as auspicious plants, since in ancient times the ancient Romans used branches of this plant as propitious ornaments during the winter solstice festivities; this use has been maintained until the present day, since the ilex aquifolium is used to decorate houses during the Christmas period; the vivid color of the foliage and red berries certainly makes this plant very pleasant, especially in the winter garden, when most of the other plants are gray and without foliage; in the woods the hollies stand out only in winter, because for the rest of the year they go completely unnoticed.
Cultivation over the years has led to the creation of various hybrids and cultivars; typically in gardens it is difficult to see a holly with dark green foliage, varieties with a clear, contrasting or yellowish margin, or with variegated leaves are typically preferred. There are also dwarf varieties, with compact development, and varieties whose leaves keep the thorns for long years.

Grow the holly

The holly or Ilex aquifolium is a resistant shrub, which tends to adapt well even in non-perfect cultivation conditions; it prefers well-drained, fairly sandy, slightly acid, and rich in organic matter soils, but it survives even in alkaline and heavy soils, provided it does not spend excessively long periods in a completely dry or heavily soaked soil with stagnant water. They are then placed in a good garden soil, lightened and enriched with a little manure or humus, and with universal soil. These plants develop without problems both in the sun and in the shade, even if the colored leaf varieties tend to keep the foliage more vividly colored when they are grown in partial shade, while the green leaf varieties tend to take on a lighter color. if grown in full sun. It is a completely rustic plant, which can withstand minimum winter temperatures close to -15 ° C; we can therefore grow the holly in the garden all year long; any very intense or late frosts can ruin the outermost branches, but the plant will quickly recover when spring arrives. Hollies also bear the hot summer sun, provided they are not left in conditions of complete drought for long periods of time; even wind and pollution are not a problem for these vigorous shrubs. The young specimens need regular watering, from April to September, to be supplied whenever the soil is dry; plants that have been planted for a long time instead tend to be content with the rain water, but it may be necessary to water them in the summer, when the climate is very hot and dry, or even in spring, in case of particular drought. Hollies are shrubs with very slow development, for this reason they hardly need pruning, if not normal cleaning in late winter; they are also cultivated in pots, even if they do not like transplants, and it is therefore appropriate to place them immediately in a large enough vessel, where they can remain for some years, without requiring repotting.


Common name

Ilex aquifolium
Family, genus and species Aquifoliaceae, Ilex aquifolium
Type of plant Sapling or shrub evergreen
Height at maturity From 3 to 5 meters
Cultivation Simple
Water needs undemanding, avoid stagnation
Rusticitа Rustic
Exposure Both sun and shade
Place of cultivation vase, full ground
Type of soil Soil drained, sandy, slightly acidic but also calcareous
Climate It bears cold winters and hot summers with a minimum of irrigation

Growing holly: Parasites and Diseases

Hollies o ilex aquifolium tend to adapt to every cultivation condition, for this reason, hardly a holly will get sick, unless the adverse conditions last for long periods of time; holly fungal parasites are generally root rot, which develop only if the soil around the plant remains saturated with water for months. The insects that attack these plants are the most common spread in our gardens: the cochineal develops in a hot and dry climate, which will remain on the plant even in winter; in spring, however, aphids often lurk on young shoots, ruining new leaves. Usually the main problem is the lack of berries, very much felt if a specimen of this kind had been purchased just to enjoy the winter fruits; as we said before, only the female specimens produce berries, while the male ones do not produce any (in any condition); to know if the holly we have planted is female, we will have to wait for it to flower, something that often happens only in specimens that are at least 4-5 years old; to remedy this problem, often in the nursery we try to buy holly trees that already have the berries, to have the certainty that they will also produce them in our garden. If, however, in our own garden, or in that of our neighbor, there are no male hollies, we will not get any berries in the summer, because the flowers of our female specimen cannot be pollinated. Another problem of hollies is linked to the fact that they do not like to be moved, racked, uprooted; often, when a holly is planted, it loses all the foliage: it is a normal behavior due to the stress suffered by the roots; generally within a few weeks the plant adapts to the new location and returns to filling with leaves.

Growing Holly - Ilex aquifolium: Propagate the holly

Ilex aquifolium drupes contain fertile seeds; in nature these seeds fall, and remain in the wet and cold soil until spring, when they will sprout; if we collect the fruits of holly in autumn, we remove the seeds from the pulp, let them dry and then immediately sow them, keeping the sowing tray outdoors, in a cold and shaded place, until germination. If instead we have already dried holly seeds, which have a few months of life, we will have to put them in the refrigerator, to simulate the passing of winter, otherwise it will take even one or two years to sprout. In any case, even the fresh seeds will not germinate when spring arrives, but they will take a few more months. Obviously, we won't be able to know before three or four years if our seed hollies are male or female. Often, to avoid reproducing male specimens, s prefer to propagate and holly by cuttings, taking the cuttings from a female specimen, we will be so sure that at maturity our future plant will produce the typical red berries. Cuttings are taken in late spring or late summer, cutting the tips and branches that have not bloomed; the cuttings are deprived of the leaves in the lower part, they immerse themselves in the rooting hormone and then in the soil. The caking tray should be kept in a cool, shady place and watered regularly to prevent the soil from drying out completely.

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  • Holly

    The holly is a plant belonging to the genus of aquifoliaceae originating in Europe and specifically of all i

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