Tags Posts tagged with "holly"


Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Most varieties of holly need at least one male plant in the area to produce an abundance of red berries. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Broadleaf evergreens are not conifers (which evolved about 300 million years ago), but flowering plants (which evolved about 125 million years ago). It’s just that broadleaf evergreens happen to keep their leaves throughout the winter and in many cases can be used the same way that conifers can — as a year-round privacy screen. Yes, eventually they will lose their leaves, but they will stay on the plant over winter and will present a beautiful, almost Christmas card, scene covered with snow.

Azaleas and rhododendrons immediately come to mind, especially in Long Island’s acidic soil. But, there are a number of other evergreen shrubs to consider.

Euonymus come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Small cream-colored flowers will produce red berries in autumn on some varieties. Some are fast growers that reach an enormous size and need to be pruned back several times a year — unless you really want a massive shrub. The golden variety can revert to type (that is, have its leaves turn all green), resulting in a shrub that’s part golden and part green.

The foliage on the euonymus often reverts to green, so you wind up with a bush that’s half green and half yellow. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Some are considered invasive in Suffolk County, including Euonymus alatus (winged euonymus, also called burning bush due to its red leaves in autumn) and E. fortunei (winter creeper), and are on the Do Not Sell/Transfer list. I had one that had a branch root underneath a house shutter — how’s that for invasive? Since this shrub has a number of negatives, why plant it? Do so only if you find noninvasive varieties and are sure you have the room to grow it to its potential.

Holly is one of my favorite shrubs, although over time, they can reach the size of small specimen trees. Most varieties need at least one male plant (which does not produce red berries) in the area to pollinate the female shrubs. Even holly varieties that are self-fertile will produce more red berries with a male plant in the vicinity. Holly prefers an acidic soil, so is ideal for Long Island’s soil. Another plus is that they are fairly disease and insect resistant. Some varieties are even deer resistant. While a number of my shrubs has been munched on by deer, the holly have never been touched.

Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), in the heather family, is native to North America. It blooms in May and June and is hardy in zones 4 to 9. This can be a very large shrub, maturing at 7 to 15 feet tall and easily about as wide. Do not plant this one in front of a window, unless you really want to block the view. However, it is a slow grower. It prefers full sun and, like rhodies, prefers an acidic soil (in a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5). The plant is toxic to humans and some animals — this is strictly an ornamental here. Its uniquely shaped flowers bloom in white to dark pink colors, all with purple markings.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) are thorny, evergreen shrubs in the Rosaceae family. They tend to be upright, rather than bushy shrubs, and due to the thorns should not be planted anywhere near walkways or pools. The plants can get to be quite tall, up to 12 feet at maturity. They present small white flowers in spring and summer that mature to either orange or yellow berries in autumn, which the birds love but are not edible for humans. They are hardy in zones 6 to 9. It’s an easy plant to grow and pretty much pest free. They grow in a wide variety of soil pH levels from acidic to alkaline. They grow well in shady areas and, an added bonus for those of you with clay soil, do well in sandy, loamy and even heavy (clay) soils. If it wasn’t for the thorns, this would be pretty much a perfect plant.

No plant is perfect for every location. Always read plant tags carefully to check for requirements and final size. You don’t want your home to have its windows blocked by giant shrubs or spend entirely too much time pruning them back.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

The firethorn plant produces gorgeous cluster of yellow or orange berries in the fall.

By Ellen Barcel

Last week we took a look at a number of trees that you may consider adding to your garden, and how important it is to do research, to make sure that the trees’ qualities match your preferences and requirements. This week, let’s take a look at some perennials and shrubs.

Perennials and shrubs

Deer love hostas (as well as many other plants). Hostas in general don’t do well in sunlight. You may be willing to spend a lot of time watering them and putting up with the crispy edges most develop in strong sunlight. Personally, I just put hostas in the shade in the back yard, away from deer.

One of the biggest mistakes I frequently see is planting rhododendrons in front of windows. That two-foot-tall baby plant, may grow up to 10 or 12 feet tall totally covering the windows. Always check out the variety and its mature size when selecting it, unless, that is, you have a nasty view from a window and wish to block it out.

Wisteria is an aggressive vine that needs a fair amount of pruning to keep it in check
Wisteria is an aggressive vine that needs a fair amount of pruning to keep it in check

Oriental varieties of wisteria are very aggressive. Unless you are willing to tame this beautiful but aggressive plant, avoid it. It climbs up nearby trees, spreads along the ground and roots easily. If, however, you wish to cover a gazebo and are willing to take the time to keep it pruned back, it makes a beautiful privacy screen.

Most, but not all, varieties of holly need a male plant in the area so that the female plants will produce those beautiful red berries. If you buy holly, make sure you have the male plant as well. It will generally be smaller than the female and will not produce red berries itself. So plant it where it can pollinate the female plants but not where you expect a beautiful display.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) is a woody shrub that produces lovely flowers in spring and gorgeous clusters of yellow or orange berries in fall. The tall shrub (six to 16 feet) makes a lovely specimen plant or as part of a hedge. The evergreen plant is hardy in zones 6 to 9 (Long Island is zone 7). However, as its name implies, it’s filled with thorns. So, grow this beautiful and relatively carefree shrub knowing that the thorns can get you.

Devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) is native to North America. So it can be found growing wild but not usually on Long Island. Some people like the unique plant (or small tree) with its white flowers in spring, which are followed by purple-black berries, and go out of their way to plant it. However, its name should make your aware of its nasty qualities, namely the horrible thorns along its stems. If you must add this to your garden, plant it in a remote area where no one can come in contact with those spines. Or, better yet, don’t plant it at all.


With such easy access to information on the internet, no one should be making these, and other, gardening mistakes. Go to your search engine, type in the name of the plant in question together with a phrase such as “negative qualities” or “pros and cons.” Then check out the information and find out if you’re willing to live with the negatives. It may be worth it.

Mulberry is a weedy tree that drops fruit seemingly everywhere.
Mulberry is a weedy tree that drops fruit seemingly everywhere.

You may be willing to put up with the spiky seed pods of the sweet gum, or the long string beans of the catalpa, or the fruit dropping from a mulberry tree. You may like the fact that certain plants are slow growing and won’t take over your garden. Or you may want a fast growing plant to block out undesirable sights quickly. Make sure you know the final size (height and width) of a tree. Don’t plant a tree that easily spreads to 40 feet across right up against your house. Both the tree and the house will suffer.

Note that websites with extensions like .edu (colleges, universities, etc.) and .org (organizations) are most likely to give accurate, well-researched information. So, do your homework before you hit the nurseries. Then, ask them for their opinions. They may know, for example, that local deer love the buds of Montauk daisies, despite the fact that most websites say the plant is deer resistant.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.