The leaves have begun to fall from shrubs and trees. Now those leaves
are very colorful but soon these colorful plants will look barren. For the next
several months, our landscape will look drab, with gray or brown tree trunks,
branches and stems--but there are plants that actually look better when the foliage
falls from the plant.
My favorite shrub is large-growing and will thrive in a moist to wet soil--even
boggy. During the fall and early winter it will be the talk of your garden. Most
of us know it as winterberry and we have seen it growing on the side of the road
where water seems to collect, boggy areas where in the spring you can find pussy
willows growing wild, and on the edge of ponds and lakes.
This plant--the winterberry--is in the Holly family and known as Ilex verticillata,
just in case you go looking for it at your favorite nursery. The first thing
you should know about this plant is that it will drop all its foliage during
October; that is called a deciduous plant.
The beautiful holly plants we are accustomed to growing in our yard are evergreen,
and we adore them for the beautiful dark green foliage as well as the fruit.
This plant is hardier than many of our evergreens, as it will grow from Canada
to South Carolina and tolerate winter temperatures to minus 30 to 40 degrees
below zero. If you're looking for a plant to add to your landscape that
will give your property a natural appearance and require no maintenance from
you, this is your plant.
Winterberry will grow 6 to 8 feet tall and just as wide, but some of the new
hybrids will stay smaller--without pruning--about 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.
The plant will grow oval to round, with a dense growing habit of branches
that are fine and twiggy looking. Branches are dark gray and smooth looking, but they
grow with an unruly appearance, twisting and turning in all directions.
The leaves are one and half to three inches long, oval and, unlike the evergreen
varieties, there are no sharp thorns on the edges of the leaf. The foliage is dark green and shiny, with visible lines or veins running through the top of the leaf.
In the fall, the leaf changes to yellow-purple before falling from the plant.
In the spring, white flowers will develop on the new growth. These flowers are white, made up
of five petals arranged in a circle with an indented center like a small trumpet.
The flower is 1/4 inch wide and forms in a cluster, all around the stem of the
plant, on the tip of the branches and before the leaves develop.
If you have grown holly before, you will know that unlike most plants, the
holly needs male and female plants to make fruit; this is also true with this
variety of holly. Only female plants make fruit, but both male and female plants
make flowers and you need both to have fruit on your plants. Now the good news:
all you need is one male for every 5 female plants to make berries in your garden,
so purchase large female plants and smaller male plants for more fruit in your
Choose a sunny location with fertile soil that is moist and acid. Plant with
compost and fertilize every spring with Holly-Tone or Acid-Adoring fertilizer.
The winterberry will look great all by itself but in groups or mass plantings
it will be eye-catching all fall and early winter. When the snow begins to fall,
make sure there is a plant nearby so you can enjoy the red fruit that covers
this plant when the ground is covered with white snow.
The birds love the 1/4 inch red fruit and will feast on them in February.
It is not too late to plant now, as these plants are very hardy. Winterberry
produces the same red berries you will see at your local garden center or nursery
this winter, cut into bunches to be used to decorate for the Christmas
Winterberry is truly a wonderful plant for all seasons--enjoy.
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