Since it’s December, I thought that the plant of the month should be something seasonal; but as these plants are hollies, we need to think in pairs. Ilex x meserveae ‘Mesog’ and ‘Mesdob’ are more commonly known as ‘China Girl’® and ‘China Boy’®, and they are two of my favorite plants. They also happen to be the most suitable hollies for Zones 5 and 6, and among the few reliable broadleaved evergreens that we can grow. They are cold hardy, will tolerate heavy soil and partial shade, and are bothered by few pests. One thing they do insist on, however, is acidic soil. Ideally, the soil pH should be no higher than 6.0, and, even then, you may still need to use an acidic fertilizer a couple of times during the summer to prevent the occasional smattering of yellow leaves. I’ve had success with Miracid®. Also, make sure the soil is kept moist for the hollies throughout the summer. If planted in a northern exposure, they should require little extra water beyond normal rainfall. Pairing two hollies with a spreading yew makes an attractive garden grouping.
I’ll be doing a separate post in the near future on the importance of pH, but, for the purposes of current discussion, pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity in a moist soil. It’s possible, and sometimes desirable, to send off soil samples to a lab that specializes in testing soil for both pH and nutrient content, but unless you’re growing a plant, or plants, with special nutritional needs, just knowing the approximate pH should be enough to determine whether a plant will thrive in your garden. No sense spending money on a plant that won’t be happy in its new location. There are an assortment of casual and professional pH meters available. Believe it or not, it’s possible to obtain a surprisingly close approximation to the pH of lab-tested soil with a simple pH probe that costs less than $15.00. The picture to the right, showing one such meter, can be purchased on the web for about $12.00. Just make sure that the soil is moist when you take the reading, such as after a light rain shower.
A holly’s red berries are produced on the female plant, so you need at least one ‘China Boy’ to pollinate the ‘China Girl’. A single ‘China Boy’ can pollinate numerous females as long as the male plant is within 100 feet of the female plants. Both the male and female plants grow moderately fast from 8′-10′ tall and 6′-8′ wide in ideal conditions. More commonly, the plants grow about 4′-5′ high and as wide. They can be pruned a couple of times per season with secateurs, strategically removing extra-long branches while maintaining the basic spreading shape. Try to leave one pruning until December, when you can cut off branches to bring indoors for decorations.