Garden answers

Holly, with its brilliant berries and glossy, often spiky leaves is one of the most care free of all plants.

WITH the festive season fast approaching, holly seems like the perfect plant to feature this month — Ilex aquilfolium or an Cuileann is our native Irish holly and is the one we are all familiar with having seen it used as a Christmas decoration since we were children.

There are, however, hundreds of species of holly that come in all sizes, from spreading dwarf varieties to tall pyramidal ones. Holly, with its brilliant berries and glossy, often spiky leaves is one of the most care free of all plants. It will grow almost anywhere, tolerating pollution and strong winds. It can be grown as a tree, a shrub, or as hedging to give year round interest.

Q. I do a lot of decorating with holly at Christmas and was thinking of growing my own holly tree. Can I buy a plant at the garden centre that will supply me with berries next Christmas?

A. If you only have room for one plant I would suggest buying a mature Ilex aquilfolium ‘Pyramidalis’ which is a self-fertile, conical upright shrub or small tree with green leaves that produce an abundance of bright red berries. It can grow to 6m (20ft) height and 5m (15ft) spread, but can be maintained at a certain size. As hollies are very slow growing, it is quite expensive to buy a mature one, but as they may not produce berries until they are 6 to 8 years old, this is the only way you will have berries next year.

Q. I planted a holly hedge 5 years ago in a north-facing, windy site and have never had berries. Can you tell me why?

A. It could be that the plants are not mature enough, but my guess is you do not have a mixture of males and females in your planting. Berries only grow on female flowering plants that have been fertilised by a nearby male holly plant. If planting a hedge my advice would be to buy mostly female plants with 2 or 3 male plants to fertilise them.

Q. I would like to plant a hedge to bring wildlife into my garden. Would holly be suitable?

A. Holly would be very suitable — not alone does it provide food for birds during the winter with its berries, its foliage provides a safe place for them to hide and build safe and defensive nests due to its spiny nature. Insects and bees are also attracted by the scented flowers in the spring.

Q. I have a male holly growing in the garden. Can you suggest any female varieties that would be suitable for fertilisation?

A. Golden king is a female variegated variety that will be fertilised by any male species of Holly.

If you have any gardening queries, or if you would like to feature a particular plant, you can contact Charlie O’Leary by visiting or


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