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On gardening: Holly makes a jolly-good screen for noise, traffic

March 9, 2015

The native yaupon holly is eaten by several species of birds, including these Cedar Waxwings seen last week in a feeding frenzy.

If you are thinking about creating a privacy screen between you and your unruly neighbors or perhaps wanting to quiet traffic from a busy street, look no further than one of our fine evergreen hollies. Your first inclination is probably a fence, and while that would certainly work it does present a host of issues including maintenance, harsh lines in the landscape and a real struggle if you need a screen 12 feet-plus in height.

Yet at least twice a month I get a call or a visit from someone looking for more of the nuclear option, and that is to plant bamboo. Bamboo is in our gardenís name and I treasure that plant, done right. Sometimes I joke with my wife saying she is too high tempered to be holding that butter knife, and similarly Iíve felt like telling the visitor they are too angry and high tempered to have a bamboo. Iím not sure they would find my joke funny. Chosen incorrectly, bamboo could certainly end all prospects of the good neighbor relationship.

On the other hand, a cluster of Nellie R. Stevens hollies, yaupon hollies or one of dozens of American holly selections could form a screen of dark glossy green while providing berries for a host of birds. While bamboo is known for its spreading ability, it wonít take long for hollies to grow as well, quickly blocking out views you donít want and the sounds that will become more of a memory.

The Nellie R. Stevens holly is a cross between the English holly, Ilex aquifolium, and the Chinese holly, Ilex cornuta. It was introduced in 1954, and now 61 years later it is still one of the most important selections in the trade. It is rugged, durable and exquisite in both beauty and form. It is cold hardy from zones 6-10, meaning much of the country can relish in its beauty. It offers everything you could want in a holly with deep green glossy leaves, bright red berries and a classic Christmas tree shape.

The Nellie R. Stevens can reach 20 feet tall and around 18 feet in width at maturity offering what might be the perfect screen. We have a cluster of five screening our conference center from a parking lot. A tall Fantasy crape myrtle, ornamental grasses, palms and seasonal color are used for companion plants.

In another area we use clusters of yaupon hollies-Ilex vomitoria, zones 7-10, American hollies-Ilex opaca, zones 5-9, and Purple hollies-Ilex purpurea, zones 8-9, screening a large service area where our water well is located. Cedar waxwings have arrived in great numbers and are rotating among the hollies in a feasting frenzy. It is a sight to behold.

Whether you are creating a screen or the landscape of your dreams, try grouping your hollies in odd-numbered clusters of three to five. Let them serve as backdrop spring-blooming shrubs or a perennial border. Redbuds and dogwoods make for incredible partners. Try placing them in between repetitive clusters of hollies.

Though these are tough, persevering shrubs, they do need water to get established at your home. During the first year make it a practice to train them to go deep with their root expansion by watering deep but infrequently.

Feed your hollies a light application of an 8-8-8 fertilizer about a month after transplanting. Feed established plantings in April and August. The last application is even more important for hollies with large berry crops.

Hollies are so versatile they provide the bones or evergreen structure so needed in the landscape. As a screen there is no better choice. They are an undeniable necessity in the backyard wildlife habitat. Take a survey of your landscape and see where hollies would enhance the overall beauty.

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