For holly, it’s time to get growing

Bill Cannon

Things move so fast in the spring, one week can change a garden completely.

Daffodils and tulips are about gone; bleeding heart is at its peak; the coral bells are starting to bloom; bearded iris are showing off along with their cousins the flag iris and rhododendrons; and azaleas are flowering as only they can.

In bloom are the early flowering hollies. This is the time of year to determine the sex of the plant.

If you have hollies, but no berries, you can check to see if they are males or females. If your plants bear fruit each year you have at least one of each and there is no problem, but if you don’t get berries in the second or third year then you may have all males or all females or, in rare cases, a non-compatible pair.

The flowers are the clue. Male flowers have a small hole in the center while the female flowers contain a green berry in the center.

If you find that you only have one sex, take a small branch to your nursery and pick up the one that you do not have. You will need only one male for several females.

One other thing: English holly (Ilex aquifolium), hybrids of English holly such as the Meserves (Blue hollies) and the Koehneanas, bloom in May. American holly (Ilex opaca) and its hybrids bloom in June. The deciduous hollies bloom in August.

These dates are approximate and depend on the weather. The point is that hollies that do not bloom at the same time cannot pollinate each other.

Much research and experimentation has been done to determine the results of crossing hollies. This work  takes years of growing hollies from seed and testing them for gender; hardiness; berry color; leaf color and shape; and shape of the tree or bush.

Bonus tip:

When selecting tomato plants, buy the short, bushy ones, not the tall thin ones.

Six-pack plants will quickly catch up with the larger plants in 4-inch pots, but the larger ones are easier to handle.

For bite-sized tomatoes try sweet 100; red and yellow cherry sweet millions; grape; and yellow plum. For medium-size tomatoes try supersonic; better boy; early girl; and golden jubilee. For super-sized, beefsteak cannot be beaten.

An easy guide to tomato varieties is available at If you  have trouble telling when a tomato is ripe, go to

Remember that tomatoes need full sun, a little lime and a coarse mulch around the plant to keep soil from splashing up on the lower leaves. The mulch will delay leaf disease that most tomatoes get in the fall.

Bill Cannon is a professional gardener. He can be reached by e- mail at