Winterberry, a deciduous member of the Holly clan, is popular for adding fall and winter color to the landscape with its bright red berries. But most varieties of Ilex verticillata are large shrubs, too big for many space-challenged gardeners to use -- especially since these dioecious plants need a non-fruiting male pollinator planted nearby in order for the female plants to produce their colorful berries.
Now small-space gardeners can enjoy winterberry with the compact combo of Berry Poppins and Mr. Poppins from Proven Winners. Growing only 3-4 feet tall and wide, these compact cultivars can be tucked into landscapes both small and large. Berry Poppins, the female selection, bears a heavy crop of berries that form in late summer and become a landscape focal point when the shrub's leaves drop in fall. Equally compact Mr. Poppins provides the pollen necessary for the show. One male plant is sufficient to pollinate at least 5-6 female plants nearby.
While many bird species will dine on winterberries, they are not a favored choice because of their low fat content and are usually not eaten until late winter when other higher fat choices have been consumed. This lets you enjoy a long stretch of winter color and help out your feathered friends as well! And while the small white flowers in late spring are not very showy, they are attractive to honeybees and other pollinators.
Hardy in zones 3-9, winterberry does best in moist, acidic soil high in organic matter in full to part sun, but it's quite adaptable. Because it can take wet as well as drier soil, it's a great choice for a rain garden planting.
Article published on May 6, 2014.