The Savannah Holly is a unique, beautiful and interesting holly that resembles a tree much more than most types of holly bushes. Rather than use it as a screen or clipped specimen, this is a holly to grow as a specimen tree, allowing it to grow naturally, with limited or no clipping. It is fast growing, adding about 12 inches a year, and growing in time to perhaps 35 feet tall.
However, this is not a tree that will take up a lot of room, as it has a beautiful narrow form, becoming a tall column only about 8 feet wide when mature. A handsome, visual ‘exclamation point’ in the landscape of your garden, this lovely tree is well-adapted to growing in the warmer conditions of southern states, thriving in summer heat and humidity, where other holly bushes can do badly.
Growing Savannah Holly Trees
The Savannah Holly is a narrow, columnar tree, reaching in time 35 feet tall, and less than 10 feet wide. It has upright branches, and forms an open crown, with a central trunk of smooth, soft-gray bark. The lower branches can be removed as it develops, to create a taller trunk, or those branches can be left in place to produce a tree with a short trunk and lower crown. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, deep green all-year-round, with a leathery texture and a semi-mat surface. The leaves are narrow, less than 2 inches wide, with a spine on the tip and about 6 spines down each side.
In spring you might see inconspicuous greenish-white flowers clustered at the base of the leaves. These turn into red berries just a little less than ½ an inch in diameter, which cluster along the stems, and persist through fall and most of winter. This colorful display makes the Savannah Holly an attractive feature in your garden during the quiet winter months. These berries become an important food for birds, who will usually eat them in late winter.
Uses on Your Property
Plant the Savannah Holly as an upright specimen tree in the corner of your property, or in the lawn. Grow a row of them to create an open screen along your property line, or to divide a larger garden. For a denser screen you can clip into a neat hedge, we recommend the Greenleaf Holly, which is form of the American Holly, or other hybrid hollies also suitable for hotter regions, such as the Liberty Holly. The Savannah Holly is best seen as a small tree, and planted where you want a narrower, upright evergreen tree. Because of its narrow form it is a good choice for a smaller or medium-sized garden, or as an accent among other more rounded bushes and trees.
Planting and Initial Care
The Savannah Holly grows best in full sun, where it will produce the biggest berry crop. It will also grow well in partial shade, developing a slightly more open form. It grows in most garden soils that are well-drained, and thrives in moist, slightly acidic, rich soils. It is not recommended for highly alkaline soils, which can cause the leaves to yellow. Mulch each spring with organic materials such as compost, rotted leaves or rotted manures, to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and to feed the soil and your tree. If you are planting in a lawn, keep the area beneath the tree free of grass until it is mature.
The bark is thin and easily damaged, so be careful using string trimmers near this tree. The Savannah Holly is very drought resistant when established, and this tree will easily tolerate the dry conditions of a hot summer. It also has moderate resistance to air-born salt spray, so it can be planted near the coast. It is much more resistant to common pests and diseases than many other holly bushes, and it needs no pruning to develop a strong crown. All in all, this is an excellent tree for the ‘plant it and forget it’ gardener, who will be soon be rewarded with a handsome addition to their garden.
In the natural order of things, not all holly bushes are created equal. Because many look similar – spiny leaves and red berries – it is easy to assume that one is much the same as another, but that would be a mistake. In Europe the classic ‘Christmas Card’ holly, called Ilex aquifolium, is common, but most parts of America are too hot and dry in summer for that particular plant to grow well. What better then, but to choose native American hollies instead, which are pre-adapted to our conditions?
History and Origins of the Savannah Holly
The American Holly (Ilex opaca) is well known for making strong hedges and specimens in our gardens, but there are wild hollies too. In the forests of the South grows the dahoon (Ilex cassine). Sometimes, when these two trees grow near each other, as they do from North Carolina down into Florida, natural hybrids are formed. Around 1950 W. H. Robertson, who was the Commissioner of Parks in Savannah, Georgia at that time, found an interesting tree growing wild in the woods, with a narrow, upright form. He identified it as a natural hybrid of the dahoon and the American holly, and he named it ‘Savannah’ when he gave it to nurserymen, in 1953, to grow and sell. Female holly trees usually need a male tree within 200 feet to be able to produce a heavy crop of berries. Because of its unusual origin, this tree is best pollinated by a male form of the American Holly, such as ‘Jersey Knight’, or a male tree of the wild dahoon, which may be growing in woods or gardens near you.
Choose the Savannah Holly for a different kind of evergreen specimen tree – you will not be disappointed. This tree is often not available, and it is always in high demand from knowledgeable gardeners. So order now, as our limited stock will soon be gone.