Holly plants can be grown indoors as a way to celebrate the winter holidays. For hundreds of years, holly has been used for winter season decorations. More than 780 different species are grown worldwide but only two are used extensively for indoor decorating. In Europe, Ilex aquifolium, known as English holly, predominates. In the United States, Ilex opaca, a native holly plant, is more commonly used. Both of the decorative hollies are know for red berries and shiny leaves on sturdy branches used to make wreaths and other decorations.
Holly seeds are difficult to germinate, so cuttings are used to start plants. The best source of plants is a greenhouse or a plant nursery that sells indoor plants. Holly plants already acclimated to indoor growing will experience less shock when placed in a home with an indoor heating system. Home-grown indoor holly will probably not produce berries. Plants are either male or female and both must be grown to obtain berries on the female plant. Pollinators, such as bees must also be present. Buying a plant with berries is probably the best way to obtain one.
Holly plants need some direct sun. Variegated varieties need more sun, so a sunny bay window or garden window is best. The soil should be kept barely moist, neither dry nor soggy. Enclosed sun porches and rooms kept below 70 degrees provide the best environment. The purchased tree can be decorated like a miniature Christmas tree or left plain. The sharp leaves on some varieties can hurt unsuspecting small children, so place the plants out of their reach. Check the species tag on the plant to see if it can be planted outdoors in your gardening zone in spring.
Holly can be grown outdoors to provide branches for decorating. Leaf size and shape varies, as does color, which includes variegated yellow and green edging and striping. Traditional English holly is hardy to USDA gardening zone 7, and the native Ilex opaca grows to zone 5. Several male and female trees should be planted to ensure plenty of red berries. Provide a location with more sun for variegated types and partial shade for green-leaved varieties with well-drained fertile soil. Do not prune after early summer to allow branches to grow for winter decorating.
In ancient Britain, Druids believed the evergreen holly leaves provided a place for spirits to rest over the long winter. The Celtic peoples decorated their dwellings with holly long before the coming of Christianity. In Christian England, holly was said to be a corruption of the word holy and was used to decorate churches, homes and public places at Christmas. Native Americans revered the plant's spiny leaves and hard wood as a symbol of a warrior's fierce nature. They painted holly leaves on their battle shields.