Winterberry’s Spectacular Fall Fruit

Think “holly” and you may envision stiff, spiny evergreen leaves suitable for holiday wreaths. While many hollies are evergreen, there are also several deciduous species, including winterberry, that provide a spectacular fruit display from autumn into winter.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a North American native shrub that often grows in damp or boggy sites. It has an upright, multi-stemmed form and spreads slowly from suckers to form a dense clump. Winterberry is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants); both sexes produce inconspicuous white flowers, but only the female plants bear small, round, bright red fruits in clusters along the stems. This is an excellent shrub for mixed borders, naturalistic gardens and wildlife plantings.

Common name: Winterberry

Botanical name: Ilex verticillata

Plant type: Deciduous shrub

Zones: 3 to 9

Height: 6 to10 feet

Family: Aquifoliaceae


Growing conditions

  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil: Acidic; grows in clay, loam, or sandy loam
  • Moisture: Very moist to average

Care

  • Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of pine needles, wood chips or other organic mulch
  • Pruning: Occasional pruning to remove damaged stems and shape plant
  • Fertilizer: In spring, top-dress with compost or apply fertilizer as needed.

Propagation

  • Cuttings
  • Seeds


Pests and diseases

  • Few pest or disease problems
  • Likely to develop iron chlorosis in alkaline soils

Cultivars

  • ‘Red Sprite’ (synonym for ‘Nana’) has a compact (4 feet tall) form and large red fruits.
  • ‘Winter Red’ is a popular cultivar that grows 6 to 8 feet tall and bears loads of medium-sized red fruits
  • ‘Afterglow’ grows 5 to 6 feet tall and produces lots of orange-red fruits.
  • Males: ‘Jim Dandy’ pollinates early blooming cultivars like ‘Red Sprite’ and ‘Afterglow’ while ‘Southern Gentleman’ will pollinate later-blooming cultivars like ‘Winter Red’.

Garden notes

  • Plant winterberries along with other fall-fruiting shrubs to provide food for birds like robins, cedar waxwings and catbirds.
  • Winterberry thrives in damp areas, such as pond and stream edges, and is also a good choice for rain gardens.
  • Colorful winterberry fruit stands out when planted in front of evergreens.

All in the family

  • Winterberry is a member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), which contains just a few genera (taxonomists disagree on the exact number).
  • There are about 400 species in Aquifoliaceae, the great majority of which are in the genus Ilex, the hollies.


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