By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
HOLLIES FOR SAN ANTONIO
Autumn and winter are the best time to plant shrubs and trees in San Antonio. The new plants have several months to develop a root system before the high temperatures of summer challenge the plant's survival. When selecting shrubs for your yard, pick those that are the right size for the spot where you are placing them. Not the right size now, but the right size when the shrubs reach their final height and width.
Hollies are the best family of shrubs for San Antonio. They are good xeriscape plants, usually evergreen, have few pests or diseases, require almost no pruning, most can tolerate sun or shade, and are very attractive. There is a holly for every situation.
Use dwarf Chinese hollies for a groundcover plant three feet in diameter and 18 inches tall. They have kelly-green evergreen foliage that is very attractive. I like to use dwarf Chinese holly as a groundcover in an area where people or dogs are prone to cut through the bed. The spines on the leaves are not savage, but they do discourage foot traffic. In my neighborhood deer do not seem to eat the dwarf Chinese holly and they do very well in the shade.
The dwarf yaupon holly does not have thorns, but deer do not eat it either. Dwarf yaupon holly is the premiere small foundation shrub for San Antonio. It grows well in sun or light shade and is a disciplined grower that does not require pruning. Planted four or more feet apart, dwarf yaupon holly forms a globe-shaped shrub about three feet in diameter and height. It has small leaves the size of dimes and a light green colored foliage.
Dwarf Burford holly has dark green shiny foliage. It generally reaches about five feet tall and four feet wide as a final size. In the wintertime the plants are decorated with bright red berries that the birds eat in early spring after they are softened by the cold weather.
The standard Burford holly can reach eight feet tall. It makes a very handsome, tall hedge or attractive specimen plant. Birds will eat the berries and its thick foliage is a favorite nesting site for cardinals and chipping sparrows.
The standard yaupon holly is one of the most versatile plants in our pallet of xeriscape plants. It can be pruned into any shape you desire. The plant sculptures at Fiesta Texas are yaupon hollies. At my former home in West Bexar County I used standard yaupons for an eight foot hedge only 18 inches wide. They can even be espaliered against a fence or wall. The standard yaupon grows fast for a holly, often more than two feet per year. It makes a nice small tree. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens has one about 25 feet tall. Birds eat the colorful berries and favor its crown for nesting.
The possomhaw holly is closely related to the standard yaupon, but there are some major differences. Possomhaw is a deciduous holly. The leaves fall in the autumn to show off the tiny berries that are arranged thickly on its horizontal branches. The effect is striking. Possomhaws reach about eight feet tall and six feet wide in our soils. Use possomhaw as a winter specimen plant in full sun for best effect. Individual hollies are male or female. Since the berries are so desirable only females of the standard yaupon and possomhaw hollies are sold in nurseries. There are plenty of males in the wild, so pollination does not seem to be a problem.
Once hollies are established, they are nearly invincible. They are sometimes slow to establish, however, and are vulnerable to over-watering, under-watering, and planting them too deep.
Water newly planted hollies when the soil at its base dries to one inch. The soil should never be allowed to be soggy. If the holly is planted in mid-summer root growth is minimal and you must water at the root ball. Water directly at the base during the first summer.
When you plant the holly make sure the hole is only as
deep as the container. Soil on the stem will cause a rot that girdles