Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Damn good plants: Holly 'Cherry Bomb'

I don't often get excited over hollies, its pretty much a static plant until it produces berries so finding one that makes my eyes pop out and whistles blow is rare!  Last year I became aware of a Holly 'Cherry Bomb', released from Greenleaf Nurseries in North Carolina.  Very little information was given and web searches on the plant produced barely any thing that would tweak the average persons interest but I took a gamble and brought some in.  Unlike the lottery, this one seems to be paying off.

One of a few website I stumbled across reviewed it as 'Total Tenacious and Texas Tough' plant.  Cause for concern as it might not be tough enough for Virginia's winters.  Yeah, we kick butt too but without the big hats!  My concerns have been laid to rest this year as a planting done last fall at the front of the store not only survived the winter but showed no sign of leaf burn often seen on newly planted broadleaved evergreens.  In fact the plants has thrown out copious amounts of flowers that are developing into good berries for what promises to be a great show in the fall.  It may be good to mention here that the plants are self fruiting so no need for pairing partners by the hand (a Texas saying).

The foliage is smooth, dark green without thorns that would suggest it belongs with the holly family, almost taking on the appearance of a Otto Luyken Cherry Laurel.  According to the JC Raulstons Arboretum 'Connoisseur Plants - 2006' listing, it mentions that it was a home grown hybrid out of the National Arboretum in Washington DC.  The interesting part is when the parentage is discussed, crossed between  Ilex Nellie R. Stevens and I. intregra or Mochi tree native to Asia.  Both are somewhat large specimens in the landscape but  'Cherry bomb' is listed as reaching 3 to 4ft tall by 3ft wide and mounding, though is a slow grower.  This claim seems to be holding as none of the plants show signs of a loftier ambition. The rest of the literature gives the impression that sliced bread was the last best thing available to us before 'Cherry Bomb' showed up.  Sun-part shade, moist, well drained soils but tolerant of floods or drought, is there anything it doesn't like!

My hat comes off to this Holly, for the reason that it has gone out of its way to not look like a Holly except for its large red berries.  Even a taste test of sorts done with a colleague resulted with him mentioning how good that plant was for the following ten minutes.  I'm surprised he didn't light up a cigarette after his experience to gain his composure back.  Though one would not consider it terribly sexy, 'Cherry Bomb' does make quiet an sensation in the garden for a Holly!



16 comments:

  1. So fun - I was searching around the internet for info on Cherry Bomb peppers and here I found your blog (and this holly that sounds great!). Such a surprise to find THE Robert from Merrifield blogging about gardening. A very happy surprise, for sure.

    (I'm Sergey and Nadia's neighbor - they are your biggest fans!)

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  2. I am a Brit living in The Woodlands, Texas (about 30 miles North of Houston). We were looking for a large bushy holly at our local garden centre. We were recommended to look at the Cherry Bomb Holly, which they described as a moderate grower - and after seeing the specimen they had growing in the grounds thought it was just what we needed. It was over 10ft tall and 8 ft wide, very full and bushy from top to ground level, with those lovely big red berries. Having got our modest 3 gallon specimen home I did a quick google search and found the plant described as a slow growing low level (3 to 5 ft tall) holly. Now I'm left doubting. Do I plant it in the expectation that it will (in time!) grow into a similar big beautiful specimen as the one we saw at the garden centre ..... or was that one an aberration? If the latter, then I need to plan somewhere else to plant it as a small decorative holly. Has anyone else seen the Cherry Bomb Holly grow into a good sized small tree aka the one we saw at the garden centre?

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    1. Always good to hear from a fellow Brit! I've seen a wide range of sizes listed for Cherry Bomb Holly so its hard to give you a definitive answer. I've got a feeling it changes depending on environment. Being in Texas, you've got good draining soil and warmer temperatures than what we experience, so it might get bigger. It certainly has the genetic make up to do so knowing the parentage. There's still a good chance the one you saw was mislabeled. A Finepoint, Carrisa or straight Burford are all in that 10ft + range that we see here from time to time.
      Hope some of this helps

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  3. Appreciated your prompt response. Optimism is good, so I cleared an area 9ft square and yesterday planted my modest specimen smack in the middle – in the hope that it will in time grow to be as large as the specimen that we saw in the garden centre. Standing as it currently does only 2ft tall from the highest leaf to ground level it certainly has a challenge ahead of itself! I’ll pop back here periodically to give an update as the info might help others to make an informed decision – there doesn’t seem to be too much info on this holly on the internet?

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  4. Rob, I saw 'Cherry Bomb' for sale at a local nursery for the first time. Hard to believe it was created here in the DC area - decades ago! Since I love any I. integra hybrids (Scepter, Virginia, etc), I may have to find a place for this one.

    It looked to me like the plant grew at least 10 inches in one season though, judging by the new whips of growth. To me that's not a slow grower! And, like you say, given its parentage, it's hard to believe it would be in the 'small' category for very long. Looks like it could be pruned regularly though.

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  5. Just popping back to update on the progress of the Cherry Bomb Holly that I planted back in February 2103. Well, it still looks very small in the space that I cleared for it, though the plethora of red berries that it produced were very pretty. Putting the tape measure to it, from the very top of the tallest leaf to ground level is now 29 inches - so some 5 inches taller in the year! I'm hoping that last year was a "bedding in" year and that it will start to show some robust growth in 2014; filling out as well as putting on some height. I'll be back later for a further update.

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  6. Thanks for your update. Deer discovered mine this winter and knocked it back with their nibbling. Please keep me informed on its growth as there's not much info out there on how it performs.

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    1. Deer! I am looking for a holly or (pine) to replace a 5-plant grouping of China Girl/Boy holly that the deer have almost totaly striped. Six hour sunny location, good drainage. Any recommendations that would also benefit birds and wildlife. Nice to see you on the Sat. Morning show!

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    2. Always a hard topic when deer are involved. If you don't mind going non-native than consider Osmanthus or Viburnum 'chindo' for evergreens. The sadly don't provide a food source but will play a role in cover or protection. With the availability to sun many Junipers can be utilized as well like our own native eastern red cedar.

      You'll have a bit more choice with deciduous plants as deer will only munch at the thin young stems. Again many native viburnums like the nudum's 'Brandywine' or arrowwoods can be used for berry production.

      Not knowing your landscape its hard to say for sure, but if you can plan a diverse mix of plants to replace a singular planting then you can provide for a mixture of different opportunities. I like this approach as if something fails it can be replaced to look like part of the design instead of trying to match the existing.

      Hope this helps

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  7. Hi. Just remembered that I promised to periodically come back to update on my Cherry Bomb Holly – and amazingly enough it’s a year to the day since my last update. And it was a year of solid growth, supported by a not too hot Texas summer, enough rain, and so far (touch wood!) a very mild winter. From ground level to the highest leaf is now some 53” – that’s 24” growth from this time last year! Now that is certainly not a “slow grower” in my book. Yes, it’s still got a lot of filling out to do, and (hopefully) more height to gain, but a very good “bedding in” year. No red berries this winter to date, though I do see signs that they might yet appear as the Spring develops – I’ll let you know if / when they do.

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  8. A quick update to keep my promise - it's mid November and the Cherry Bomb Holly has a nice display of big red berries.

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    1. I for one find it refreshing that someone is still good to their word and keeping their promise ! Thank you for all the updates on the Holly you bought in 2013 ! It is so exciting to hear the progress of the "little Holly that could" ( the Cherry Bomb Holly )! Sounds as though it is coming along nicely. After reading your updates I do believe I too will be purchasing me one of these. Thank You !

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  9. I was outside raking up leaves from the “lawn” when I looked at the Cherry Bomb Holly and suddenly realized that it’s the time of year to pop back here and to report on progress. Another year of good growth - ground level to the highest leaf is now some 78” – that’s 25” growth from this time last year …. and if it keeps on at this rate I’ll need some step ladders and a second pair of hands to measure it next year! So, after the “bedding in” year it’s put on a couple of feet of height each year, which definitely makes it a fast grower. Be interesting to see if it can maintain that pace and add another 2 feet this next year. The diameter of the bush is 4 to 5 feet, so it’s also filling out nicely too. The Texas climate of HOT summers and mild winters certainly seems to suit it.
    There are still a few of the red berries on the lowest branches, but most have fallen off and are now lying on the ground around the bush.
    Thanks to Lisa for the nice note – it’s reassuring to know that some-one is reading these periodic posts and perhaps benefitting from them. And I would certainly recommend this holly to you. Lovely lush smooth ever green leaves – you can run your hand through the leaves without being scratched or snagged – with the annual show of large red berries in the run up to Christmas.

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  10. Enjoyed reading the saga of ske's Cherry Bomb Holly just now. And it will soon be time for the annual check in for 2017. Hoping for continued healthy growth!

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    1. That time of year again, and after a particularly wet ’16 Spring here in East Texas, a gorgeous summer and a very mild winter to date I was excited to get out the tape measure and see how the Cherry Bomb Holly had performed. 82” from the ground level to the highest leaf. Yes – when I looked at the growth and measurements from the last two years, I even went back outside to re-measure it! Sure enough – just the 4 inches of height growth this year ….. and I’m actually kind of disappointed ….. lol!
      Now, I have enjoyed a handsome display of red berries, starting from last November all the way through to the end of January – and indeed small new green berries are already starting to form on it for this next Winter’s show – so I really have no right to complain too much.
      I’ll give it a good dose of fertilizer in the next month or so, and see if that spurs it back to its old growth habits? Or it may just have reached a size and maturity after which it will only show moderate growth? Time will tell – I’ll report back here again no later than next year and let you know.

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  11. Thanks for the update ske.

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