Winter color is a main theme for this season’s gardens. Beside pines and firs, one of the most commonly known holiday decorations from the garden is holly.
Holly (or ilex) is a widely accepted traditional Christmas decoration, native to the northwest, growing best in Washington and coastal Oregon and California. Holly likes full sun to partial shade and can grow to a mature height of 1 foot on up to 50 feet tall. Holly plants are either male or female, though there are a few self-fruiting varieties. Therefore, both male and female plants are required to set fruit.
Hellebores are another reliable winter bloomer. They differ from hollies in that they are far more compact, usually 2 to 3 feet tall or smaller when mature, and they need at least half a day of shade. Where holly is grown for its berries, hellebores are grown for their flowers.
Hellebores are slow-growing evergreens that bloom for an extended period of time in the winter. The flowers range in color from white to green to purple to red to a near-black. They have the added benefit, for Tracy-area gardeners, of tolerating alkaline soils, while the Christmas Rose variety actually requires it.
For all they have going for them, hellebores have a big drawback: Every part of them is poisonous if ingested.
When choosing plants for your garden, it is important to note which zones are best for your selections. In the Tracy and Mountain House areas, we are Sunset Zone 14, with a heavy influence of Zone 9. Any plant rated for those two zones is a good choice.
• UC Certified Master Gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 953-6112 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions for Heather can be submitted to email@example.com.