Planting & Growing
Blue Angel Meserve Holly will grow to be about 12 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 6 feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 40 years or more. This variety requires a different selection of the same species growing nearby in order to set fruit.
This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth, but will die in standing water. It is very fussy about its soil conditions and must have rich, acidic soils to ensure success, and is subject to chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves in alkaline soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.
Blue Angel Meserve Holly makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. Its large size and upright habit of growth lend it for use as a solitary accent, or in a composition surrounded by smaller plants around the base and those that spill over the edges. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag – this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.
What Is Blue Holly – Tips On Growing Meserve Blue Hollies
If you like holly trees or shrubs, you might live blue holly. What is blue holly? Blue holly, also known as Meserve holly, is a hardy hybrid holly with shiny, blue-green evergreen leaves. For more Meserve holly information and tips on growing Meserve blue hollies, read on.
What is Blue Holly?
So exactly what is blue holly? According to Meserve holly information, blue or Meserve holly (Ilex x meserveae) is a holly hybrid developed by Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve. Her intent was to develop a cold hardy holly with attractive leaves.
Mrs. Meserve crossed a type of holly with excellent cold hardiness with a holly species that was less cold hardy but has beautiful, shiny foliage. The resulting hybrids are termed blue holly, and include a variety of cultivars with gorgeous blue-green leaves. These include:
- ‘Blue Angel’
- ‘Blue Boy’
- ‘Blue Girl’
- ‘Blue Prince’
- ‘Blue Princess’
Each has its own shape, height and hardiness. Cultivars ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ take the hardiness cake since they are hardy down to -20 degrees F. (-29 C.).
Blue hollies produce the same, shiny red berries that other hollies offer. The berries grow in a pale green color but they deepen into crimson (or, less often, yellow) as they mature.
How to Grow Meserve Holly
If you are wondering how to grow Meserve holly, keep reading. Growing Meserve blue hollies isn’t difficult if you site the plants correctly. In fact, they are easy-care, low maintenance plants in your garden.
Plant blue holly in moist, well-drained soil. The plants do best in soil that is slightly acidic and in a full sun or partial sun site. Blue holly trees thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.
If you want your trees to bear the bright berries, be sure to plant some male plants near female plants. Generally, experts recommend planting one male to every three to five females. All hollies bear male and female flowers on separate plants. Both types of trees are required for the females to produce fruit.
Blue Holly Shrub Care
When you are growing Meserve blue hollies, blue holly shrub care become important. Your first step toward caring for your trees is siting them correctly.
Another element of blue holly shrub care is to protect the trees from winter foliage burn. You can do this by avoiding south- or west-facing exposed planting sites. This also helps prevent summer heat stress.
Don’t prune your hollies too often. Any pruning should be modest and not too late in the season. If you prune blue hollies too late as you attempt blue holly shrub care, you will remove the floral buds for the following season.
- hybrids between I. rugosa and I. aquifolium or I. cornuta and I. rugosa
- the intent was to develop cold hardy evergreen hollies with shiny, high quality, evergreen foliage by crossing a species with good cold hardiness but inferior foliage with a species possessing poor cold hardiness, but excellent foliage
- Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve of St. James, NY produced the initial hybrids and they were introduced by Conard-Pyle Nurseries
- zone 5; probably in most locations in zone 4 as well
Habit and Form
- can grow up to 12′ or even 15′ tall, but most plants reach a mature height of 8′
- form varies with the cultivar, but is either pyramidal or rounded
- branching is horizontal to irregular
- generally dense and shrubby
- leaves evergreen
- very dark almost blue-green
- margins with rather closely spaced teeth/spines
- 1.5″ to 2.25″ long
- 1 to 1.5″ wide
- stems are bluish purple with green
- evergreen, so no fall color
- foliage turns slightly purple in the winter
- dioecious, with male and female plants
- small white flowers in late April and early May
- flowers are numerous, but not overwhelmingly ornamental
- male plants are slightly showier in bloom
- only produced by female plants
- bright red shiny fruit about 0.33″ in diameter
- matures to red in the fall
- can be quite showy
- a male pollinator is needed nearby for peak fruit set (within about 300 feet)
- green, except brown on only the very oldest wood
- generally hidden by the foliage
- grows best in full sun, but light shade is toleranted with more open growth resulting
- prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils, but it is relatively soil adaptable
- can be pruned to remove straying branches, but wholesale pruning is not necessary.
- although quite cold hardy, avoid very exposed windswept locations
- relatively carefree plant
- foundation plant
- mass plantings
- useful for high quality evergreen foliage
- for fruiting effect in fall and winter
- fruits attract robins, bluebirds, catbirds, and mockingbirds
- need female plants and a nearby pollinator for peak fruit set
- winter burn or injury can result in difficult winters or when one fails to use the most cold hardy cultivars
- shrubby habit
- dark blue-green shiny leaves
- closely-spaced teeth/spines on leaves
- purplish new stems
- red fruit (female plants only)
- exclusively by cuttings
The following are I. rugosa x I. aquifolium hybrids, referred to as Blue Hollies:
‘Blue Angel’ (Blue Angel®) – This slow-growing cultivar is the least cold hardy of the group. It is the result of a backcross of I. x meserveae to I. aquifolium. As a consequence, the plant has larger, crinkled leaves and reduced cold hardiness from the added I. aquifolium influence. It is a female selection with shiny red fruits and grows full and dense to 8′ tall and wide.
‘Blue Boy’ – Introduced in 1964 as one of the first Meserve Hollies, this male form is a fairly good performer. It grows well over 10′ tall and has good quality lustrous green foliage.
‘Blue Girl’ – This is the female counterpart to ‘Blue Boy’ with bright red fruit. It was one of the original Meserve Holly introductions in 1964. It offers good cold hardiness, but seems to grow a bit more open than ‘Blue Princess’. The overall habit is pyramidal to around 8′ tall.
‘Mesid’ (Blue Maid®) – A hardy, fast growing female selection, this plant assumes a pyramidal habit to 15′ tall. It offers abundant bright red fruit. Though this plant has been touted as being the most cold hardy form, both ‘Blue Princess and ‘Blue Girl’ appear to stand up to cold just as well.
‘Blue Prince’ (Blue Prince®) – This male selection was introduced in 1972. It has an excellent dense, compact habit to 12′ tall with good quality, dark shiny green foliage. It is considered both an excellent pollinator for Meserve Hollies and a handsome, easily-pruned landscape plant. The plant has proven cold hardiness down to -20 degrees F. and is the most popular male selection of this group.
‘Blue Princess’ – The most popular female selection, this plant was introduced in 1973. It offers very dark blue-green foliage that is shiny. The fruit color is a darker red than many others and the drupes are abundantly produced. Cold hardiness is reliable to the -15 to -20 degrees F range. The habit is broad and shrubby to 15′ tall. Some feel this is the best of the group.
‘Honey Maid’ and ‘Gretchen’ – These new female forms are variegated sports grown primarily for their leaves which are splotched and margined with yellow. They grow smaller (to 6′ tall) and form red fruits. The hardiness of these plants allows growers in colder regions to enjoy an evergreen variegated holly.
‘Mesan’ (Blue Stallion®) – A male selection with a long blooming period, this form serves as an effective pollinator. It grows more rapidly than ‘Blue Prince’ (Blue Prince®) (to 12′ tall and wide). The foliage — borne on attractive purplish stems — lacks prominent spines and is a dark, shiny green.
The following are I. cornuta x I. rugosa hybrids:
‘Mesdob’ (China Boy®) – Reportedly cold hardy to -20 degrees F., this male selection is useful as a pollinator for ‘Mesog’ (China Girl®). The foliage is glossy green and the plants grow to about 10′ tall with similar spread. The habit is rounded and dense in the landscape. The “China Series” appears to be both more heat and cold tolerant than the I. rugosa x I. aquifolium hybrids (Blue Hollies).
‘Mesog’ (China Girl®) – This is a female clone that is pollinated by ‘Mesdob’ (China Boy®) and features abundant 1/3″ red fruit on a 10′ tall and wide shrub. It has been embraced as an excellent landscape plant and displays better heat tolerance than the Blue hybrids. The leaf margins of this selection and its male counterpart turn under, leading to a “cupping” effect that separates these plants visually from the Blue hybrids.
Other Meserve Hybrids:
‘Meschick’ (Dragon Lady®) – This hybrid of I. pernyi x I. aquifolium is useful as a screen or hedge because of its strong pyramidal-columnar habit to 20′ tall with a 6′ spread. The leaves are spiny and dark green, while red fruit are produced using ‘Mesan’ (Blue Stallion®) as a pollinator.
‘Mesgolg’ (Golden Girl®) – This plant is notable as the first Meserve hybrid with yellow-orange fruit. It has a broad pyramidal habit and a dense complement of foliage.
Holly may seem a bit pedestrian of a choice for a plant of the week, but it fits the season and the red berries brighten up these gray fall days. Plus ‘Blue Girl’ Holly is deer resistant (although in Ashland, the deer are ignoring this advice), drought tolerant, tough, and can tolerate sun or shade. The glossy dark green leaves do have spines but they are not as sharp as many other holly types or even barberry. The leaves look fresh and clean and are complimented by purple stems and bright clusters of red berries. You can keep this holly around 3′-4′ if you like with occasional pruning or let it get 5-6′ tall and 3-6′ wide for a dense hedge. You do need a ‘Blue Boy’ to keep the berry production up, but it seems that there is usually a holly bush in the neighborhood to assist with pollination. This species is especially cold hardy and can handle clay soils, appreciating the typically acidic ph of clay soils. Keep watering to the drier side of the spectrum, and prune back if needed in the winter. ‘Blue Girl’ Holly is not a fast grower so it is suitable in a container paired with other festive-colored plants, like Heuchera, Nandina, and ornamental grasses.
Kathleen Meserve, an observant gardener from St. James, L.I., saw the merits of several holly species and went to work. Her results? The blue holly hybrids that have swept the nursery market in this region, because the plants are hardy and handsome.
Her first plants, Blue Girl and Blue Boy, were introduced in 1964. These holly hybrids have the toughness of Ilex rugosa, a durable species from Asia, and the beauty of the English holly (Ilex aquifolium). This interspecific cross was so successful that a new species was named for her, Ilex meserveae.
Nurseries have discontinued the first Meserve hollies and stocked up on the later ones, including Blue Princess, Blue Prince, Blue Maid and Blue Stallion. Blue Prince is an excellent pollinator, and most nursery operators say that only one plant need be set out for all of the female hollies in a garden. The bees do the work in May ,when the hollies are in flower.
One holly that deserves more space is the hardy winterberry, Ilex verticillata. Because it loses leaves in late fall, many gardeners do not like to use it. But when the leaves fall off, the brilliant red berries show off and can be seen for quite some distance. One plant grown to its fullest size — possibly five to six feet or more — can be loaded with the berries, a real showpiece. This holly is also hardy, and nothing is more dramatic than the berries against a bank of clean snow.
By contrast, the Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta) is equally showy, but not hardy in these parts. Gardeners have been able to carry it along in milder winter seasons with some protection and heavy mulching after the ground freezes. But it can be killed off when winters are severe. The newer cultivar Burfordi is considered somewhat tougher, though this one has rounded leaves and not the stiff spiny form of the true Ilex cornuta.
View full sizeSCOTT ZONA/WikiMedia CommonsInkberry (I. glabra)
The glossy “holly-shaped” leaves and ruby red berries of English holly have brought a bough of cheer into a multitude of homes. But hollies are also classic winners in the outdoor landscape. Their distinctive leaves, diversity of form and cheerful charisma bring year-round appeal to the garden. And they really shine in winter, with a long-lasting display of brightly colored berries that not only enlivens the wintry scene but also serves as sustenance for a variety of songbirds.
With more than 400 species of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, hollies (Ilex spp.) range in size from trees that tower up to 100 feet tall to creeping prostrate shrubs less than a foot in height. They can be rounded, spherical, pyramidal or columnar in form. Leaf shape and size run the gamut, too — from smooth to spiny, narrow to broad, and quite tiny to rather large. Most are dark green to glossy green in color, but blue types exist, and the variegated forms with white or silver leaf margins are quite striking. Red, yellow, orange, white or black berries ripen in fall, and in some species they last until early spring.
Hollies in the landscape
One of holly’s greatest assets lies in its landscape potential, which is limited only by your imagination. Depending on the species, they can be grown as specimen plants or accent plants; as attractive privacy-screen hedges or impenetrable tall hedges; as low hedges or borders for garden beds; or as foundation plantings.
View full sizeiStock InternationalWinterberries (I. verticillata; Ilex)
Smaller species are ideal when planted in masses or grouped together to form an attractive backdrop. For example, you might use a low, smooth-leaved Japanese species (I. crenata) to frame a path, or try a taller evergreen variety such as English holly ‘Sparkler’ (I. aquifolium ‘Sparkler’) or blue holly (I. x meserveae) as a backdrop to beds and borders.
Hollies make an effective foil for other colors or create a fabulous focal point. Some varieties can even be trained as bonsai trees. Whatever position they play in the garden, hollies are an excellent way of adding texture to the overall landscape.
Most hollies prefer a rich and slightly acid soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. Good air circulation and a well-drained soil are essential for most types; exceptions include cultivars of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and Chinese holly (I. cornuta), which usually grow happily in moist sites. A sunny spot is best for berry production, though most hollies will do fine in partial shade.
All hollies perform best with an annual mulch of pine needles or other woody material to maintain the soil’s acidity and to help keep the soil cool and moist. An annual application of a high-nitrogen fertilizer or rich compost (preferably applied in late February or early March) will help keep leaves healthy and glossy.
Most hollies need little pruning, though annual pruning does promote dense growth and more berries. Unless you desire a specific shape, prune mainly to remove unwanted, unruly or broken branches in early spring before new growth begins; the winter holiday season is ideal, as you can use the clipped branches to decorate your home and outdoor living space.
All holly plants are dioecious, meaning the flowers are either male or female. Both male and female plants are necessary to produce the colorful berries. (One male growing nearby will generally pollinate several female plants of the species.) Some varieties — such as Ilex cornuta ‘Dazzler’ and Ilex ‘San Jose’ — have parthenocarpic capabilities, so fruit production occurs without fertilization. (Poor pollination or too much nitrogen can result in less berry production.)
Pay attention to hollies that thrive in your neighborhood and get advice from your local nurseryman or extension service agent on which varieties they recommend. Then consider the carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” which says, “Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.”
DECKING YOUR OUTDOORS
Stumped as to which holly to grow? Here are a few favorites to help you get started.
American holly (I. opaca):
Slow-growing evergreen trees from 40 to 100 feet tall are rounded to pyramidal in shape. Similar in appearance to English holly, though leaves are not quite as glossy or as deep in color. Berry color varies tremendously in shades from light yellow to orange, or red. Resistant to oak root fungus.
Japanese holly (I. crenata):
Evergreen shrub or small tree growing from 1 to 15 feet tall. Leaves are deep green and small, with dense growth more similar to a boxwood than a holly. Small berries are mostly glossy black, but sometimes white or yellow depending on the species and variety. Requires well-drained soil to succeed.
View full sizeWikiMedia CommonsBlue holly (I. x meserveae)
Blue holly (I. x meserveae):
For shades of blue, grow cool-looking blue holly, sporting stunning purple stems and softly deep blue-green leaves. Growing 5 to 12 feet in height, this group of hybrids is quite showy in the landscape, with contrasting bright red berries and typical holly-shaped leaves. Disease-resistant and more tolerant of heat than most hollies.
Inkberry (I. glabra):
Glossy dark green spineless leaves and pealike black berries are the hallmarks of this medium-sized evergreen shrub, which grows to 10 feet tall and wide. ‘Compacta’ (female) and ‘Nordic’ (male) grow to 4 feet tall and wide and can easily be sheared to a more compact hedge.
Winterberries (I. verticillata; Ilex ‘Sparkleberry’):
Family of deciduous shrubs growing 6 to 12 feet in height. Reminiscent of blueberry bushes in winter, but the bare branches are loaded with orange to red fruit that persist well into winter. Ornamental color of fall and winter wood varies among varieties. Both types work well in smaller yards; they thrive in any moist to boggy soil.
English holly (I. aquifolium):
Often referred to as the Christmas holly, this berry-laden evergreen shrub or tree is preferred for wreath production and holiday decorations. The berries are bright red, vivid orange or yellow. Leaves are dark green or variegated, and spineless or covered in spines. Prefers partial shade where summers are hot and dry.
While English holly has not been banned as an invasive species, it has raised concerns in natural areas where its proliferation threatens native plants, so care should be taken in choosing this for the home landscape.
Amid the barren bleakness of winter, the holly tree stands out, lush and green with bright red berries. We use this plant to decorate our homes at Christmas, some of us fiercely guarding the berries against birds. But as we have been decorating our homes with holly for centuries, so have the birds been eating the berries. An English native, it’s part of us, our history and our folklore, and it’s also part of our wildlife.
Ilex aquifolium is one of a number of species often referred to as English holly, which usually form a small evergreen tree or shrub with a conical or cylindrical crown. Most species have smooth, silvery-grey bark, green twigs and alternate leathery leaves with wavy, spiny margins. Some English hollies have variegated leaves, but most are a deep dark green.
Holly flowers are tiny at only 6mm across but they provide a source of nectar and pollen for bees. Photograph: Alamy
Plants are either male or female. In both sexes the flowers are borne in small clusters on old wood. Each flower is tiny – around 6mm in diameter and white, with four petals. Only male flowers are fragrant; only female plants produce berries – in some species these are yellow but most are a bright scarlet red, contrasting beautifully with the deep dark green of the evergreen leaves.
The name holly comes from the Anglo-Saxon word holegn. In pagan folklore the holly is personified as a mythical figure called the Holly King, who rules nature between the summer and winter solstices. He’s often depicted as an old man wearing a wreath of holly on his head and walking with a stick made from a holly branch.
The early Romans gave boughs of holly to friends during the festival of Saturnalia – a celebration of Saturn and the winter solstice. Christian legend suggests that holly sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, the leaves’ spines representing the crown of thorns and the red berries the drops of his blood. The name holly derived from “holy tree”; Jesus’ cross was allegedly made from holly wood.
By the 15th century, holly was used to decorate churches at Christmas. It was also used to decorate houses, and small plants were even used as indoor Christmas trees.
The caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly ( Lycaenopsis argiolus) eat holly leaves, buds and flowers. Photograph: Alamy
Many of us notice holly only in winter, but its value to wildlife goes beyond Christmas: bees visit its flowers for nectar and pollen, caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly and various moths eat its buds, flowers and leaves. Many species of bird nest in holly, using its spiny leaves for protection. Blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings and thrushes eat the berries. Holly leaves are slow to break down, so hedgehogs, small mammals, toads and slow worms hibernate in the deep leaf litter that builds up beneath the trees.
It’s not too late to plant holly. Between now and late February they are available to buy as bareroot plants, and may be used as part of a mixed native wildlife hedge or grown individually where they will add evergreen interest to the winter garden. They’re slow to get going – I planted one three years ago and it’s still a tiny little thing. I don’t yet know if it’s male or female but I’m happy to wait. It’s satisfying enough having a small piece of history, folklore and wildlife growing in my back garden.
Blue Maid Holly – Knowledgebase Question
Posted by jon
In some cases concrete foundations have been known to leach lime into the nearby soil and thereby raise the pH to the point that acid loving plants have been distressed and show it by yellowing. In many cases however, azaleas, rhododendrons and hollies grow quite nicely next to concrete foundations, walks and patios! The best thing to do is to test your soil to verify where the pH is, and maintain it in the acid range as needed. Often an annual application of a fertilizer formulated for acid loving plants is adequate.
Blue Maid is one of the Meserve group of hollies which all have the word Blue in their names. Blue Stallion or Blue Prince, for example, would serve as a pollinator. The supplier for your holly should also stock appropriate pollinators, or there may already be a nearby pollinator in say a neighbor’s yard.
Incidentally, according to Michael Dirr’s “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” the mature Blue Maid holly takes on an approximately pyramidal form of between 8 to 10 (possibly 15 feet) tall and about 6 to 8 feet wide, so I suspect the label was giving you the anticipated landscape size in about five years.