Miss Helen American HollyIlex opaca 'Miss Helen'
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Ilex opaca 'Miss Helen'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
Miss Helen American Holly is an excellent berry-bearing holly known for its heavy crop of big, bright red berries for the holiday season. This compact bush forms a pyramidal tree, reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and ultimately growing over 20 feet tall, as it develops a tree-like form if untrimmed. The leathery leaves are glossy, with a dark, olive-green coloring that really shows off the berries. It makes a showy lawn specimen, a dense hedge or a small tree in a woodland setting. It can be planted at the back of large shrub beds too, for a reliable backdrop to your garden.
Either full sun or partial shade suits the Miss Helen American Holly. Grow it in any well-drained soil, preferably rich and moist, but once established this tree has good tolerance of drought. Pests and diseases rarely bother it, and deer generally ignore the spiny leaves. Trim young plants in late spring and late winter, and to preserve berries trim carefully in summer, once they are visible. A male tree, such as the Jersey Knight American Holly, should be planted nearby to guarantee a good berry crop.
Imagine yourself, in those days of wonder leading up to Christmas, stepping into your garden and returning in minutes with evergreen branches dripping with clusters of bright red berries. Weave them into door-wreaths with some spruce or pine, wrap them around candles for the festive table, or simply place them in vases. Nothing says ‘Christmas’, like holly, and you can ‘deck the halls’ with an abundance from your own garden when you grow the beautiful Miss Helen American Holly. This dense, compact, evergreen tree stays relatively small for years, ever without trimming, and an annual trim will keep those branches always within easy reach. Grow a dense hedge that sparkles and sings with red through the winter season or grow neat pyramids of green and red on your lawn. No matter how you grow her, Miss Helen will be a great addition to your garden.
Miss Helen Holly is a dense, upright pyramid of compact branches, carrying shiny evergreen leaves. A small plant will grow to about 8 feet tall in its first 10 years, but left untrimmed it will ultimately reach 25 feet, with a spread up to 15 feet wide, and a sturdy, smooth gray trunk. With some trimming it can be maintained as a pyramidal tree or a hedge, with branches to the ground, more or less indefinitely.
The evergreen leaves are leathery and 2 to 3 inches long. They are a rich olive-green color, slightly lighter on the underside, and brighter green when newly sprouted. They are oval, tapering to a broad pointed tip, with a series of sharp spines along both edges of the leaf. In the American holly the leaves are less ‘square’ than we see in the European holly (Ilex aquifolium).
In May clusters of greenish-yellow flowers develop along the branches of the previous years, and if your tree is pollinated these develop by late fall into big clusters of bright red berries. These are large, and each shiny berry is a full ½ inch across. These last well into the winter, but eventually they are taken by songbirds, forming a valuable winter food for them.
If you don’t already have a male holly tree in your garden, we recommend you plant the Jersey Knight American Holly as well. For a hedge, plant one male tree for every 3 to 5 female trees, spacing them out as part of your hedge. In the garden plant a male tree anywhere within 100 feet of your Miss Helen Holly, or as one of a cluster planted on a lawn. Jersey Knight Holly will also pollinate any other female holly bushes you already have growing, and they will suddenly have big crops too.
Miss Helen Holly will look wonderful on a lawn, with its neat pyramidal form, lustrous leaves, and its bright winter berries. Grow a group on a larger lawn or at the back of large shrub beds. Plant a row, spacing them 3 feet apart, for a beautiful and impenetrable secure hedge. Plant it among large deciduous trees, to grow naturally in the same way as it does in its natural environment.
Miss Helen Holly is hardy all the way from zone 5 to zone 9. In zone 5, if the winter is especially hard, leaves may fall, but don’t remove the bare branches, as they almost always quickly re-sprout in spring, bringing your tree fully back into leaf.
A position in full sun or partial shade is ideal for your Miss Helen Holly. It thrives in the light shade beneath deciduous trees too, but too much shade may make it grow less densely, with stretching branches and more widely-spaced leaves. In hot zones some afternoon shade is beneficial to reduce the risk of leaf scorch, especially if the soil is dry. This tree grows well in most well-drained soils, doing especially well in rich, moist, acidic ones, but it is reliable in most garden soils. Avoid low-lying wet areas.
Miss Helen Holly is a low-maintenance plant and it needs little care. Newly-planted trees should be watered regularly until they are well-established. Apply some fertilizer blended for evergreen trees in spring, especially if you are trimming your holly regularly. New trees can be trimmed in late spring, after the crop of new leaves has matured a little, and in late summer, allowing time for fall growth to mature. Once your trees start blooming, trim annually in summer, once you can see the small green berries, so as not to trim away your berry crop.
The American holly, Ilex opaca, can be found growing beneath deciduous trees in forests all the way from New York to Texas and Florida, and west into Oklahoma and Indiana. This native tree has been grown in gardens for many years, and it is more adaptable and reliable in many areas than the European holly. One day in 1936 Stuart H. McLean, a nurseryman from Towson, Maryland, was tramping the woods of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He saw a beautiful holly tree, much more compact and dense than typical American holly trees. He took some branches home and grew trees from them. He named his tree ‘Miss Helen’, after his wife.
For a great display of big red berries at Christmas, you can’t beat the Miss Helen Holly. This reliable tree has a well-established reputation for beauty and charm, and you will love its neat, compact growth. These top-quality trees are not to be compared with unnamed seedlings, and they must be grown from stem pieces to preserve their unique qualities. Always in short supply, we are lucky to have some plants available, but order now, as they will soon be gone.