Screening plants – holly


Leyland cypress and Green Giant arborvitae are the standards when many people consider plants for screening. Both are attractive and very fast growing, but their mature size may overwhelm many properties. Often, a slower growing evergreen that grows to nearly twenty feet tall is more appropriate. P1011573

P1011328Upright hollies are wonderful plants for this situation. Their growth is moderate, and there are many excellent selections to chose from, offering a range of height, width, berries, and leaf color.

Nellie Stevens is deservedly the standard in this group. Dark green leaves, red Fall berries, and a trouble-free nature earn its stature. Used as a single speciman or in a grouping, Nellie Stevens is an outstanding plant.

P1010755Other excellent hollies include Dragon Lady and Centennial Girl, both particularly Winter hardy, Robin, Mary Nell, and “blue” hollies such as Blue Princess and Blue Maid. Most exhibit a heavy crop of red berries in the Fall and grow to a mature size of ten to twenty feet tall with a broad pyramidal to conical shape.

Few pests bother hollies, and most require no regular pruning or care, except a bit of water until they are established. They are best planted in full sun, but will tolerate a shady spot. Hollies are not picky about soil type as long as it’s not waterlogged.

If your garden design projects include screening plants, hollies are an exceptional choice.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Toni says:

    We moved here from S CA almost 5 years ago. I came reluctantly because of college kids back in CA AND because of my lovely CA backyard.
    But soon after we moved in we enthusiastically got into recreating another backyard retreat as nice here in NO VA, and I think we have come a long way in just a relatively short time.
    We have so many more ideas. Sometimes we worry that we are overdoing a subdivision 1/2 acre property however ?!
    Any words of encouragement?
    Do you ever take tours through local yards ? Would love an expert opinion.

  2. Kathy says:

    Love your blog – I am adding more plants to my must have list at ou rnew house.
    I wonder if the taller Hollies would do as well for a wind break? We desperately need on one the NW corner of our yard but I hesitate to plant arborvitae or leyland cypress (which everyone is recommending) becasue once they are large the only good attribute they have is that they’re green 365.

  3. davermfarm says:

    The hollies I mentioned will do a great job as a windbreak in all parts of the Washington DC area and south. As you move into the country, in particular higher elevations where Winter temperatures might dip below zero with high winds, then broadleaf evergreens become more of an issue. In those areas I would recommend the Green Giant arborvitae, or even Colorado or Norway spruce if there is adequate room.

    In a suburban setting, especially on a smaller property Nellie Stevens will be a great choice, or Dragon Lady or Centennial Girl if you want a bit of a narrower plant.

  4. Kerry Day says:

    I noticed your comment about cold temperatures and high winds for hollies and it’s caused me some concern. I live at the extreme northern tip of the Shenandoah Valley along the WV-MD border, and I’m thinking of putting a Nellie Stevens on the west side of my home. We’re in the warmer of the two USDA zone 6 sub-sections, but strong northwest winds hit the west side of our house routinely during winter. Nighttime winter temps can dip to around zero on occasion, but rarely go much below zero.

    Can a Nellie withstand the wind chill? I’ve already planted China Girl holly shrubs in the same area and they seem to be growing well. Also, I’ve read that despite their typically quoted height and width dimesnions, Nellies grow extremely large and will eventually surpass most estimates. We’re figuring on putting Nellie 15 to 20 feet from the house.

    1. davermfarm says:

      My guess is that this is going to be questionable. China hollies are a zone hardier than Nellie Stevens, and the additional concern is the wind, so I would err on the side of using a hardier plant. A better choice would be the Dragon Lady or Centennial Girl hollies, similar in appearance but as hardy as the China holly.

      The safest alternative considering the wind is to go with a needle evergreen, such as a spruce, but this would require planting twenty feet or more from the house. If you decided to try the holly then the Dragon Lady could be planted within ten feet.

  5. ChrisMK says:

    I know this information is from last August but I came upon this blog when I googled “Leyland Cypress.” We just planted some 3 ft. tall Leyland Cypress in my yard. The tag on the plant said mature height would be 15-20ft. with a base of about 10ft. Now that I researching more and more to see if this was a good purchase, I am beginning to doubt myself. Some of the websites I have viewed state Leyland Cypress can get up to about 60 ft +. My question is, how true are these tags on the plants? I don’t have a big yard but needed something for privacy and shade. Can Leyland Cypress be trimmed to maintain growth or should I take them back and get something else? Thanks!

    1. Dave says:

      I often wonder where the information on plant tags comes from, since they are often inaccurate. Leyland cypress will most definitely grow taller than 20 feet, although their mature height is somewhat variable depending on weather. Even in the more northern limits of its hardiness it will grow to forty feet or more. I think that it’s unreasonable to expect that you’ll be able to keep a tree that grows several feet per year pruned to size, in particular with any plant that grows taller than you can reach.

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