Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2008
Regional Report

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Winterberry sparkles against a backdrop of ornamental grass.

Plant Winterberry for Holiday Decorations

Berry-laden holly is a classic holiday decoration and one that is easy to grow in your back yard. While most hollies are evergreen, one of my favorites is deciduous winterberry (Ilex verticillata), which sports densely packed, bright red berries that really stand out on the bare branches.

There are lots of other reasons to grow winterberry, too. The plant is attractive year-round. The flowers' nectar attracts native bees, which are important garden pollinators. The berries persist well into winter and feed many different species of birds. And although the plant prefers moist, acidic soil, it will adapt to a variety of garden soil types. Winterberry is native to the eastern North America from Quebec to Alabama and Florida -- a remarkable geographic range for a plant -- and boasts hardiness in USDA zones 3 through 9.

Winterberry grows up to 10 feet high and wide but can be kept smaller with regular pruning. Which is a good thing since you'll want to cut lots of berry-filled branches for decorations and floral arrangements. Plant winterberry where you can enjoy the view of the winter berries from a window.

Like most hollies, winterberry is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. Both produce small, hard-to-see flowers; in order to get berries, you need a male plant of a compatible variety within 40 feet or so to pollinate the flowers on the female plant. Male plants don't produce berries.

There are numerous cultivated varieties of winterberry, so read plant labels carefully. 'Red Sprite' is a compact variety, growing just 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Sparkleberry' is noted for its abundant fruit production. The berries on 'Winter Gold' are golden-orange. Plant descriptions should indicate compatible pollinator varieties.

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