For The Answer
Saturday, September 17, 2005
“Which Shrubs to Use, Hollies”
Autumn is the best time to plant shrubs in San Antonio and hollies are among the best shrubs for our area. There are many choices of size and shape. Most hollies have both sun and shade tolerance, are good xeriscape plants, and do not have pest problems.
Dwarf Chinese Holly is an evergreen mounding shrub with kelly green foliage. It makes a good groundcover or foundation shrub that reaches about two feet tall and three feet around. In my neighborhood the deer do not eat the plant because of the spines at the end of the leaves. The spines are also useful if you want to direct traffic without causing severe bloodletting.
Dwarf yaupon holly is another good foundation shrub for sun or shade. The leaves are small and more gray green than Chinese holly. The shrub has a compact disciplined growth habit. Dwarf yaupon holly grows relatively quickly to three feet and may eventually reach four feet on good soils. Deer do not usually eat dwarf yaupon holly.
For the next larger holly, consider dwarf burford. It reaches five feet tall on our normal poor San Antonio soils, but may grow to six feet on good soils. The leaves are dark green and shiny. Dwarf burford holly has attractive red berries in winter that are readily eaten by the birds after they are softened by the cold. This versatile evergreen holly is useful as a tall foundation shrub, short hedge, or specimen plant. The leaves have a small spine, but unfortunately, the spine is not prominent enough to discourage the deer. In my neighborhood they strip the shrubs during dry weather, especially if they are irrigated.
The standard burford holly has larger leaves than the dwarf version and grows to eight or nine feet tall. It makes an excellent tall hedge or specimen plant in the sun or shade. The shrub is also a favorite nesting site for cardinals and other shrub nesters.
If you want to consider a holly for a small tree or tall shrub, consider the standard yaupon holly. It can grow to 25 feet tall. It has the same shade tolerance as other hollies, but does better if it gets more sun. Female standard yaupon hollies provide a bounty of small berries that are attractive to the birds. Most nursery offerings are females. Check for berries when you buy them. The standard yaupon also reacts well to pruning and has even been espaliered against a wall or fence. The plant sculptures you see at amusement parks are often standard yaupon holly.
There is a deciduous holly that is closely related to the standard yaupon, possomhaw holly. It is used best as a specimen shrub because of the spectacular arrangement of tiny red berries arranged on the horizontally positioned branches. The possumhaw usually grows to seven tall and does best in full or at least a half-day of sun.
Hollies are very drought tolerant once they are established. One of the reasons it is best to plant them in the autumn, however, is that they have time to grow some roots before the roots must support the plant through a droughty summer. The root system is slow to develop so be careful to apply the irrigation water directly at the original root ball for the first summer. It also helps to place two – four inches of mulch over the root system. As you apply water this winter (if necessary) however, be alert to the fact that a drought tolerant plant with a limited root system confined to a planting hole in a heavy soil is susceptible to root drowning if the roots stay soggy for more than a few days at a time. Do not overwater or underwater newly planted hollies.