Garden Q&A: History of Maryland holly

For The Baltimore Sun

My mother has a holly with lots of berries she calls Satyr Hill and claims is from Maryland. Is it safe to prune off branches for decoration this time of year?

Satyr Hill is indeed a Maryland daughter, from the McLean Nurseries in Parkville, acclaimed as one of the best all-time hollies for vigor and big red berry abundance. Maryland is rich in holly history and culture. In the offseason, Eastern Shore farmers of yore would gather boughs of American holly and market them to cities, other states and even overseas. At one time, harvest was so intense it was halted for a few years to allow plants to regenerate. Many American hollies bear Maryland names, e.g. “William Paca.” American holly (Ilex opaca) is dioecious: Plants are either male or female. “Baltimore Buzz” was developed as a pollinator for “Miss Helen.” The 2016 Holly of the Year by the American Holly Society was “Maryland Dwarf.” American hollies are remarkably resilient (surviving temperatures down to -25 degrees), growing in a multi-trunked rough pyramid with a moderate growth rate. You can collect cuttings for decorations with confidence. One of its best features: It is a deer’s last holly of choice.

I have an in-ground herb garden with sage, oregano and rosemary. The sage, oregano and rosemary still have leaves. Do I cut them back or leave them be for the winter?

You’d do better to leave them for now. Some growth may burn back in the winter and, in addition to your pruning, can result in too much loss by winter’s end. Portions with winter burn can be pruned off in the spring. You may want to mulch around the rosemary, which is the most tender of your selection. However, do not pile mulch on the stem because that may encourage rot.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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