1. By: Jessie Keith

    Ilex verticillata JaKMPM

    The bright red berries of the classic Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ shine through much of the cold season.

    Berries of cardinal red, golden yellow and orange stud the branches of winterberries (Ilex verticillata) like late-season gemstones. When planted together in masses, they offer clouds of landscape color that can be appreciated both close up and from afar. Cut branches the for festive holiday arrangements or simply keep them outdoors for the birds to eventually devour after more desirable winter food becomes scarce.

    Winterberry Origins

    Native to the whole of eastern North America, winterberries are decicuous hollies that offer little more than inconspicuous white flowers in early to mid spring and green foliage in summer, but when they produce their bright berries in fall, and the leaves drop, they shine. Like most hollies, they tend to be dioecious, which means some plants product male flowers and some produce female flowers. Only the female flowers produce fruit, so it is essential to know the sex of your plants because a male pollenizer is required. For this reason, varieties are sold as either male or female, so be sure to plant at least one of each. For larger plantings of winterberry, plant one male shrub to every five females.

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    ‘Wintergold’ is a pretty, gold-berried selection that’s commonly sold at garden centers and nurseries.

    There are no shortage of cool winterberry varieties and each year more are introduced. With the newer, better variants, these shrubs become more and more popular as garden and landscape plants. Many have denser, larger berries. Others come in interesting shades within the warm color spectrum.

    Red Winterberries

    Of the red-berried selections, Berry Nice® has bright red, medium sized berries that heavily cover the branches of this tall shrub and remain for a long time into winter. Another with lots of berries is Berry Heavy®, the difference being that the berries are quite large. The more delicately fruited ‘Sparkleberry’ is an introduction by the  U.S. National Arboretum, which has very long-lasting scarlet fruits that appear on large, upright shrubs. And one cannot write about winterberries without mentioning the classic ‘Winter Red’, which is a reliable variety with consistently beautiful red fruit. The dwarf ‘Red Sprite’, which reaches only three to five feet, is a pretty variety for small gardens. All of these female shrubs can be pollinated by ‘Mr. Poppins’. 

    Orange and Gold Winterberries

    The tangerine berried ‘Aurantiaca’, is tall and vigorous and looks uniquely beautiful in winter. Plant it alongside yellow- and red-twigged dogwoods for a real color explosion. Of the gold and yellow berried varieties, the classic ‘Winter Gold’ offers consistent good looks with its rich, golden berries. Berry Heavy® Gold is a new variety that becomes so heavily loaded with bright gold berries it literally drips with color.

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    The unusual, orange-berried ‘Aurantiaca’ has exceptional good looks.

    Growing Winterberries

    Winterberries are adaptable thriving in full to partial sun and moist to average soils on the acid side. Fruiting is most spectacular in plants given fuller sun. Before planting a new winterberry, be sure to amend the soil with organic-rich amendments like Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and Sphagnum Peat Moss. New shrubs are best planted in spring but are also cold tolerant enough to be planted in fall.

    Winterberries of all colors look outstanding when planted together in great swaths. Their bright, cheerful good looks consistently make a big landscape statement that will have your friends wanting to plant their own.

    About Jessie Keith


    Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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