Good to Know
Hardy hollies: Festive beauties to enjoy year-round
The jewel-red berries and rich, glossy leaves of the holly tree create a festive wintertime display. And while the holidays are their time to shine, hollies add beauty to the landscape no matter the time of year.
“They’re good all-around plants,” said horticulturist Mark Viette.
Viette explained that many evergreen hollies, such as the American holly, are great for screening. Growing 20 to 50 feet high, with spiny green leaves and red berries, this quintessential holly is one of the most common in Virginia.
Another screening option is the yaupon holly. Slightly shorter and growing as a shrub or small tree, they prefer warmer climates, such as zones 7 to 10. When fertilized, the female plants will produce berries during winter.
Wildlife also can reap the benefits of hollies’ dense foliage.
“Cardinals, mourning doves, blue jays—they nest in these trees,” Viette said. “It’s not as easy for other animals and predators to get to them. Hollies really do hide the nests well.”
While most are evergreens, some, like the winterberry, are deciduous. Showcasing clusters of bright-red berries on bare branches, these hollies grow in many environments and will do well in moist to wet soils. They’re also “great to use in decorating and arrangements,” Viette added.
Watch this video: Horticulturalist Mark Viette demonstrates how to rejuvenate an oversized holly tree with drastic pruning in this clip from Real Virginia.
Hollies used for hedging and in landscapes will need an occasional haircut.
“Pruning is done in the dormant winter season before new growth starts in March or so,” explained Mike Andruczyk, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturist in Chesapeake. “There are a wide variety of sizes for hollies, and they’re also very free of pests and disease issues. With proper selection of the site and variety, you can have a great plant in your yard that requires very little extra care.”
Homeowners also can find smaller varieties for their landscapes.
“Dwarf selections of inkberry, yaupon and winterberry hollies fit easily in typical home gardens with at least 50% sun exposure and good drainage,” Andruczyk said.
Cozy up with apple cider this holiday season
Sometimes steeped in warm spices that remind us of the holidays, apple cider is often served hot and is a cold-weather favorite for many.
Apple cider has a long history that dates back to ancient Rome. Early apples were too bitter to eat on their own, so they were pressed and fermented into a boozy hard cider. The popular drink eventually made its way to North America after English settlers brought apple seeds to grow their own apples for cider. It became the primary beverage of that time.
While apple cider has boozy roots, the non-alcoholic, unfiltered sweet apple cider drink favored today came about during Prohibition. Alcoholic cider was no longer marketable, so apple farmers began growing sweeter varieties for eating and promoted fresh, unfiltered apple juice as a healthy drink. That sweet apple cider is now a traditional holiday drink that can be enjoyed on its own, heated up with spices, or used as an ingredient in a delicious dish.
Have a cup of cheer!
Warm your holidays with this recipe for Hot Apple Cider Wassail Punch.
Create beautiful seasonal decor using outdoor materials
It may be chilly outside, but you can still find items in your backyard to create beautiful arrangements to deck your halls for the holiday.
David Pippin, a Richmond floral designer, shared some fresh ideas for using items from your garden or yard in festive displays. Pippin specializes in floral arrangements and garden consultations.
Needleleaf evergreens such as arborvitae and Leyland cypress look beautiful in winter arrangements, and will last one to two weeks. Pines, cedars and spruces also work well.
Aucuba stems, especially from the variegated varieties, make a wonderful addition to winter arrangements. Clippings from other evergreen broadleaf trees such as magnolia or camellia also work great and will last a long time, Pippin said.
“A fun thing to do is go to a Christmas tree lot and buy bundles of cut branches if you have none at home,” he suggested. “The branches can make a wonderful arrangement.”
Consider adding your own decorations such as ribbon, ornaments and other embellishments to make your winter arrangement feel more festive, Pippin said.
When using fresh produce, use a skewer through each item to secure it in floral foam. When using apples in an arrangement, running the skewer through the cores can make them last longer, he said.
Pippin emphasized mixing things up by using interesting containers. He suggested using anything from a bucket or pitcher to a basket or vase.
Above all, he said, have fun with floral arrangements, and think outside the box. “There are a lot of photos of arrangements online. Find something you like, and try to copy it,” Pippin suggested. “Experiment with a few sprigs in small containers to get started, put it on a windowsill, and enjoy it!”
He pointed out the importance of keeping arrangements in water-tight containers. “If your arrangement is not in a water-holding container or foam, it will dry up immediately,” Pippin noted. Change the water regularly, at least once a week, or if it starts to develop an odor. Always keep the foliage above the water, or fresh items will break down more quickly.
“It’s really all about experimenting. Some of these fresh items will last longer than others. It’s important to be mindful of the temperature of the room where the arrangement will stay too. If it’s too warm, the arrangement will not last as long.”