Barrett Wilson is a research assistant in horticulture for Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square.


Winterberry Holly
by Barrett Wilson - posted 09/16/11

Berries of ‘Winter Red’ persist well into winter.

During the gray days of winter, our native winterberry holly may be the best choice to brighten an otherwise dull landscape. Winterberry hollies are deciduous, multi-stemmed shrubs consisting of both male and female plants. The desirable, fruit-bearing female plants require a male in close proximity to ensure adequate pollination by insects. The fruiting display begins in September and October, with the most dazzling colors becoming apparent in November, when the foliage begins to drop. Clustered along the upper ends of branches, berries are primarily red, though yellow and orange-red varieties are available.

Two of the top-performing cultivars in trials at Longwood Gardens were ‘Red Sprite’ and ‘Winter Red’. The bright red berries of these two cultivars persist into late winter, often retaining their striking color throughout February. This not only provides the landscape with visual appeal, but also serves as a source of food for wildlife during these colder and sometimes snowy months. As with many other native plants, an added benefit is that pest and disease problems are minimal.

Even before leaf fall, ‘Red Sprite’ winterberry presents an attractive display.

Common Names: Winterberry holly

Botanical Name: Ilex verticillata

Type: Shrub

Fruit: Mainly red, late fall through winter

Size: Up to 10 feet in height and width

Exposure: Tolerates part shade, but full sun needed for optimal fruiting

Soil: Adaptable to wide range of types, but prefers moist, acidic soil (4.5-6.5 pH).

Watering: During first year, water regularly to maintain soil moisture.

Planting: In spring, 6 to10 feet apart

When to Fertilize: In spring with a balanced, controlled-release fertilizer

When to Prune: Prune in spring to remove dead and decaying wood.

In Your Landscape: Shrub borders, natural areas, wet soils



(From Pennsylvania Gardener Volume I Issue I. Photos by Barrett Wilson.)


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