Holly is a long-standing symbol of the Christmas season. Many cultures believe that holly has protective qualities, guarding against evil spirits and bad luck. Norse folklore says that this plant has powers to resist lightning, and they associated it with Taranis and Thor. Romans sent wreaths of holly to newlyweds for good luck, and it’s included in New Years celebrations in Chinese culture.
It’s easy to see why the glossy, vibrant evergreen leaves with sharp barbs and bright red berries of holly are commonly included in many different styles of Christmas decor. Unfortunately, there aren’t many varieties of holly that we can grow this far North. Most varieties are zone 4+, and varieties that are hardier to lower temperatures are deciduous, not evergreen.
If you have a really sheltered south-facing location and can offer plenty of extra protection, you might be able to grow common winterberry (Ilex verticillata) in Alberta. Technically it is hardy to Canadian zone 4. It is deciduous, so you won’t have the leaves all winter. You’ll need a male and female plant within 30 feet of each other in order to get the bright red berries.
Luckily, we can purchase evergreen holly sprigs for our festive indoor decorations.
How to Incorporate Holly Into Christmas Decor
There are endless ways to work this holiday motif into your Christmas decor, indoors and out. Here are just a few ideas to explore:
Holly Table Decor
- Make mini wreaths of holly around the base of candles.
- Lay multiple holly twigs down the center of your table to create a simple centrepiece.
- Tuck a few holly leaves, berries, and a cinnamon stick into napkin rings.
- Submerge holly berries and leaves in glass vases and add a floating candle on top.
- Add sprigs of holly to live mini evergreen trees for an earthy centrepiece.
- Fill an antique pitcher, jug, or coffee pot with long holly twigs.
- Create oversize holly and berry shapes from pretty scrapbooking paper and arrange them on the wall above your dessert table.
- Put a sprig into glass Christmas balls for simple and classic tree decor.
- Cut holly leaf and berry shapes out of paper and string them together for a cheerful garland.
- Tie a sprig of holly around jars or vases with some basic brown twine for a rustic look.
Adding Holly to Outdoor Decor
- Fill an antique galvanized tub with evergreen boughs, twinkling Christmas lights, and holly twigs.
- Create a simple and classic swathe for the front door with an assortment of evergreen boughs, some faux holly twigs, and a bow.
- Create a wreath with several different kinds of holly for an eye-catching front door arrangement.
Keeping Cut Holly Looking Fresh
Live holly can be a bit tricky. In order to keep holly looking its best, it needs to be well hydrated and not too hot or too cold. Generally, holly will last 7-10 days if it’s well-hydrated and doesn’t freeze or get too hot.
I know, you’re thinking, “umm hello, this is Alberta, everything is frozen!”
If you want to use holly outside, you may want to stick to faux varieties or reserve it for special holiday events. If possible, buy your fresh holly only 1-2 days before your event, and don’t put it outside in the cold until an hour or so before people arrive. Holly can be refrigerated to keep it fresh until you need it, just make sure to also keep it well-hydrated in a vase or other water vessel. You may need to add water more than once a day.
Need some holiday decorating inspiration? Stop by the garden centre to take a peek at what we’ve got in store.