Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Winterberry Hollies

It may be officially fall, but it's beginning to look a little like Christmas in my front yard - my Winterberry Hollies are on full berry display!

Winterberry Holly
The Winterberry Holly, or Ilex verticillata, is a shrub native to Eastern North America.  It is native to swampy areas, so, like many of our native hollies, Winterberries are great shrubs for poorly drained soil (hello, clay!).


So why are they called Winterberries?


Winterberry Hollies are actually deciduous.  Their leaves fall off, leaving just the gorgeous berries that remain over winter (thus Winterberries!)  I know many people prefer evergreen hollies, but I like the softer leaves of the Winterberries better than many of the stiff, glossy evergreen varieties.  And how gorgeous do these branches look with just beautiful red berries on them?

Random fact:  Of the 400 species of hollies in the world, only about 30 are deciduous.
Cut branches are often used in Christmas arrangements.  You don't even need to put them in water; dry cut branches will keep well for weeks.  Left outside, on the other hand, they will only last until the birds get to them!  Last year all of my berries were gone by February, but we had so much fun watching the birds while they were eating them.

I think the Winterberries attracted every Bluebird on this side of town!
Wanting shrubs with beautiful winter interest, I planted 'Winter Red' Winterberry Hollies on either side of my front door.  The cultivar 'Winter Red' is supposed to get between 6 to 9 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.  Of course, being a berrying holly, 'Winter Red' is a female.  In order to get those beautiful berries, the girls need a gentleman caller, for which I have the compact 'Jim Dandy' Winterberry tucked into a corner of the yard.

('Winter Red' is actually supposed to prefer the later pollinating 'Southern Gentleman', but 'Jim Dandy' seems to do the trick for mine - either that or my girls have been seeing other males on the side, which is very possible with all the wild hollies that loiter in my neck of the woods...)

Winterberry Holly 'Winter Red'
There are quite a few different cultivars of Winterberry Holly. Some of the popular ones include the short and compact 'Red Sprite', the very berry-heavy 'Berry Heavy', and the yellow-orange berried 'Winter Gold'.

Winterberry Holly 'Winter Gold'
photo source: J. Reeves, UT Gardens
Winterberry Hollies can be grown in full sun or partial shade, but they will produce more berries with more sun.  Most cultivars are hardy from zones 3 - 9, and they have very few problems with disease.  These extremely hardy shrubs are also tolerant of air pollution, clay soil, wet soil, erosion, and zombies... (just kidding, though they are deer-resistant!)  They are relatively slow-growing shrubs, though, so it is a good thing that they are deer-tolerant!


The one thing they don't tolerate, however, is alkaline soil - only plant Winterberries in acidic soil unless you want them to turn yellow and keel over on you.  But if you are looking for a great shrub to plant this fall in one of those tough, wet, clay (and acidic) sites, Winterberry Holly just might be the ticket!


Happy Fall Gardening!

26 comments:

  1. Beautiful plant, Indie! I can see it looks wonderful by your front entrance. And any plant that attracts bluebirds and looks great in all seasons is a winner!

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    1. Thanks! It does have an ugly season where it just looks like bare branches - from February or whenever the birds get all the berries until spring when the leaves grow back. But here everything is just covered in snow anyway so it doesn't make too much difference :)

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  2. My winterberries (Winter gold) are finally producing berries this year. I hope they someday will be as gorgeous as yours! The bluebirds are already eyeing the berries, which are not quite ripe.

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    1. Oh, the pictures of the Winter Gold ones I've seen look beautiful! I can't wait to see how yours looks!

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  3. They look wonderful! I will have to enjoy them vicariously though, since our soil is very alkaline. I love the bluebird photo!

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    1. Thank you! I was fortunate that a large number of Bluebirds live around here. They are so pretty!

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  4. I planted a male & female this year and am looking forward to them looking as gorgeous as yours! I took note of the different varieties you mentioned because I want to add more to my garden. I love the Winter Gold with the orange berries!

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    1. They are stunning, aren't they? Such an unusual color! I love the Red Sprite as well. I think they would look good in a big grouping (if I had the space to devote to it.)

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  5. I agree. The branches with just the red berries is divine. Got day 3 for you: http://www.finegardening.com/davids-garden-north-carolina-day-3. I'll have to see if I can find day 1.

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    1. Wow, that is such an amazing garden! The fairy garden with the clematis growing up the tree was awesome!

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  6. Now those branches with the red berries and snow clinging to them look just perfect, like a scene from a Christmas card! What a lovely plant.

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    1. They are definitely great for Christmas! It makes my house look decorated without doing anything :)

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  7. Beautiful! They are going on my wish list!

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    1. They are a great bush. I do only wish they would grow a little faster!

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  8. Yet another plant we don't have in our menagerie, but should look into! Beautiful colors, and look at them in the snow. Gorgeous. Glad to hear there are shrubs that can tolerate clay, too!

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    1. When I lived in North Carolina, I had to find shrubs that would tolerate the clay! I still have a good amount of clay up here, but thankfully not as much!

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  9. I love these berry-laden branches! I debated about buying one at a plant sale last week, but I didn't realize they needed acidic soil--that might keep me from planting any, as our soil tends to be more alkaline. I'm glad your girls found a suitor they like:)

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    1. Yeah, sadly they really won't do as well in the alkaline soil. As long as the hollies end up with lots of berries, I'm not too picky about how they are pollinated :)

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  10. Welcome to Indie !!!!
    Lovely plant. Will look great at Christmas.
    I am delighted with your photographs.
    Greetings from Polish.
    Lucia

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    1. Christmas is my favorite season, and they look so nice then, especially in snow!

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  11. Those leafless branches full of red berries look spectacular. I only have evergreen hollies. I didn't know that there were so many different deciduous hollies. I like all plants with berries in autumn because they look attractive and the attract birds.

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    1. I first learned there were deciduous ones when one winter I noticed a hill covered in red berried bushes. They were so gorgeous! I knew I wanted bushes like those.

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  12. Indie I love these as well and as I was uncovering parts of my garden I found some with berries so the birds will be getting at them soon....yours are stunning.

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    1. I have a few wild ones out in the woods, but they don't berry as much, probably due to the shade. And the berries always disappear before mine!

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  13. Not sure if my comment went through so I'll try again. I love your picture with the small blue bird and the winterberries in the foreground. I am wondering if I could get or buy a copy so I can blow it up and frame it for my house. Please contact me via email if so, or through my website:

    http://gardentraining.com/blog/

    PS: I would also be interested in some of the bee photos from your previous post. Keep taking those incredible photos!

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    1. Thank you, I'm flattered! That particular picture might be rather grainy if you blow it up large, but you are welcome to e-mail me if you still want it.

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