Question: Why doesn't our holly tree have berries on it? Is it true that you have to have both male and female trees in order to have berries?

Answer: Holly which does not develop berries could be a male holly, or it could be a female too far from a male to be pollinated. The plant could also be too young. Usually a holly plant blooms when it is from five to 10 years old.

One male holly is usually sufficient to supply the pollen for 15 to 18 female plants. To obtain a good set of berries, the male plants should not be more than 900 feet from the females. The pollen is carried from the male flower to the female flower by flies, honeybees and other types of flying insects. Honeybees work the holly flowers and make a good clear water-white honey from the nectar they collect.

If you do not have a male holly, it is still possible to obtain a set of berries by setting a few small branches from a male holly in a pail of water near the female plant. The cuttings should be placed in the sunlight so there is more of a chance of attracting insects. Both male and female flowers should be in full bloom when this is done since not many male flower buds will continue to open after the branches have been cut.

Question: Are holly berries poisonous?

Answer: According to the Holly Society of America, holly berries are far less toxic than numerous other products found in the home, such as aspirin. Research does indicate that certain species of holly contain traces of some toxic chemicals, but these same chemicals are also found in plant products such as coffee and tea. The same advice holds true for holly as for poinsettia plants. Keep the attractive red berries out of the reach of young children and curious pets.

Question: Our daughter always gives us a beautiful poinsettia for the holidays. We have hear that they are very poisonous. Is this true?

Answer: Many folks who receive holiday gift plants worry that the plants may be poisonous. Poinsettias in particular, cause much concern. In spite of old tales, research indicates that poinsettias are not poisonous. Like many members of the spurge family however, the Poinsettia does have a milky sap that can cause irritation to humans who are allergic to it.

Take special care with young children. Toddlers may rub their eyes handling plants or put plant parts in their mouths. Christmas pepper and Jerusalem cherry, often used as holiday plants, should be kept out of the reach of young children. Both have attractive, colorful fruit. The green fruit of Jerusalem cherry are somewhat toxic, a bit like green tomatoes, to which they are related. Once the fruit ripens, they may be less of a problem. Generally, holiday plants are strictly decorative, and shouldn't be handled, for their health and yours.

Question: We found some spring flowering bulbs on sale at our local nursery. Is it too late to plant them?

Answer: No! Newly planted spring flowering bulbs really don't do much until we have sufficient moisture in the soil to encourage root growth. Due to our very dry October this year, most bulbs didn't produce roots until the heavy rains arrived in early November. They may bloom a little later, and the stems may be a little shorter, but otherwise they should do just fine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723 or e-mail her at

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