HELP FOR GARDENERS: WHAT HAPPENED TO HOLLY BERRIES THIS YEAR?
Q: This year I had no berries on my holly bush; I thought the reason was that the female had been severely eaten by the deer (they did not touch my marigolds — thanks!). I mentioned the lack of berries to friends who have no deer and they also reported no berries. Have you had other inquiries about this?
— Sara Thomas
A: Holly generally means English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) or a hybrid such as Nellie R. Stevens. There is a native holly, American Holly (I. opaca) but it is a deciduous plant and doesn’t have the evergreen leaves and bright berries used in Christmas and winter decorations.
Holly likes deep, well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly acid pH. It needs at least partial sunlight to promote flower and berry formation. Use an organic mulch or apply a slow-release 5-10-10 fertilizer in late winter or early spring.
This plant is dioecious; there are male and female plants. If you don’t have both, you don’t get flowers or berries. One male plant can fertilize several female ones — ideally when located within 200 yards of the male. Plants usually don’t bloom until they are between 3 and 5 years old.
But Sara and her friends are having a problem with plants that previously produced berries, so what makes a plant stop producing berries?
The male plant previously pollinating the female bushes has been removed, incorrectly pruned or died.
Over-pruning or incorrectly pruning plants can reduce or eliminate berries. Late pruning, in summer or fall will remove young buds. Prune in winter or early spring and leave some of last year’s growth on the plant each year.
Dry weather can affect holly. A single dry season can cause the plant to shed flowers or berries to conserve moisture. Conversely, long-term drought also can elicit a flush of flowers and berries as the plant tries to preserve the species.
A late cold snap or frost can kill off the buds before they bloom or the flowers before they are pollinated.
Cold or rainy weather during flowering can decrease pollination since the insects are less likely to be out pollinating. Wind pollination also can be decreased in bad weather.
Animal browsing is always a possibility.
If everything is ideal. Good weather, sunlight, healthy plants and great fall weather can result in early berry formation. If you only check for berries in late fall or winter, you may have missed them — the birds may have already eaten them.
Q: Could you tell me how to eliminate or at least control tomato blight. I have had it for five years and it keeps getting worse.
— Glen Largent, Quakertown
A: Glen doesn’t specify which blight he is concerned about. Three major fungal problems commonly tomatoes in home gardens — Septoria Leaf Spot, Early Blight and Late Blight. All three are spore-borne, and most severe in wet weather. Septoria leaf spot affects the lowest leaves usually after the first fruit sets. Small dark spots appear, enlarge and the leaves yellow and drop.
Early Blight also first affects the lower leaves, usually after the plant sets large amounts of fruit. It appears as dark brown spots, often with white or grey centers. They turn black.
Concentric rings form bulls eyes and the surrounding tissue turns yellow, spreading to the entire leaf. Large sunken black spots can appear on the fruit. Fruits often drop before maturing.
Late Blight appears as dark green to black, wet spots that spread from the leaf edge inward. In wet weather, downy, white-to-gray growth can appear on the lower leaf surface near the edge of the spot. Spots will also appear on the fruits, grey-green and watersoaked that enlarge, turn brown and become firm with a rough surface. This blight spreads very quickly. So, although these diseases are different, the methods to avoid or decrease problems are very similar. Rotate crops. Do not plant tomatoes where you previously planted tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants or peppers for at least three years. Remove and destroy old tomato vines at the end of the season. Use healthy transplants.
Remove and discard badly diseased leaves and never work the plants when the leaves are wet.
Water at the base of the plant, never in the late afternoon or evening. Keep the leaves dry.
Use fungicides before the problems appear, ideally when first transplanted or at first flowering.
Plant at intervals to avoid losing the entire crop in addition to other suppression methods. Remove volunteer plants — they
may already be infected.
Grow plants in full sun
with ample spacing and use stakes or cages to prevent contact with the ground and allow the leaves adequate air circulation to dry them out.
Use a mulch —composted leaves, star mulch or plastic to keep spores from splashing up from soil.
Cool wet weather and spores
blown in from other gardens may infect your plants despite your own precautions.
Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.
The holly bush has male and female plants. If you don’t have both, you don’t get flowers or berries.