I’ve always envied southern gardeners and their ability to grow big, beautiful American holly trees. It would be so nice to simply walk to the backyard and snip a few branches with colorful berries for holiday wreaths or arrangements.
During the holiday season, English holly (I. aquifolium) is popular in wreaths and greens, but unfortunately it also is not winter hardy in Nebraska. However, there are hollies we can grow including Meserve and winterberry holly.
Holly is in the Ilex genus, a large group containing over 400 species. Plants are often evergreen and usually grown as shrubs or trees. Many species of holly are dioecious, meaning each plant produces only male or female flowers. To produce colorful berries, both plants are needed. Female plants will not produce berries without males to pollinate them, although one male plant can pollinate several female plants.
Meserve holly, is a group of hybrids originally developed in the early 1950s by Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve of St. James, New York. She crossed cold hardy Prostrate holly, I. rugosa, and English holly, resulting in a wonderful group of plants with attractive evergreen foliage and increased cold tolerance. Later breeding work did not always use the same parents, but the cultivars below are still considered Meserve hybrids.
Meserve holly foliage is leathery and dark green, with spines along the margins similar to English holly. Plants are evergreen, holding their foliage throughout the year, growing best in well-drained soil with consistent moisture and at least partial shade in summer. Best locations in the landscape for Meserve holly are the north, northeast or northwest side of your home where summer temperatures are cooler and some shade is available.