Earlier this fall, I patted myself on the back when I noticed the heavy berry set on my dwarf Burford hollies. I assumed it was due to the pruning I gave them in early June — which had obviously been timed perfectly between the spring and summer flush of growth.
But no sooner had I puffed my chest with gardening prowess when I began to notice that my hollies weren’t the only ones with lots of fruit. It seems that everywhere I look, there are abundant berries, turning color just in time for the holidays.
There are a number of good reasons to consider utilizing plants with winter berries. These plants brighten up the drab winter landscape, berry stems can be pruned and enjoyed indoors, and many are a great food source for wildlife. And if you already have a planting project in the works or on the mind, why not incorporate some seasonal color with vibrant berries?
Red is the quintessential and most sought after berry color — especially during the holidays. The holly family gives us several options for red berries (both evergreen and deciduous), many of which are common landscape standards for hedges and foundations. My dwarf Burford hollies are a prime example.
These evergreen hollies harness the front of my house with their dense evergreen foliage. Growing much smaller than a standard Burford, dwarf Burford holly typically max out between 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Their common application in foundation planting demands that they be regularly pruned to keep their shape and tame their size. Late fall to mid-winter, they are ablaze with red berries — creating great curb appeal for the season.
Standard Burford, Foster, Nellie Stevens, Mary Nell and Emily Bruner hollies are all large growing cultivars, reaching 25 feet tall. These varieties are great for large hedges, screens, and single specimens. Smaller growing red-berry holly cultivars include Cherry Bomb, Christmas Jewel, Castle Spire, Red Beauty and Liberty.
Deciduous hollies can make an even more dramatic statement in the winter garden than their evergreen cousins. Deciduous hollies (also known simply as winter berry holly) take center stage after the first frost, dropping their leaves and revealing their bright fruit. Common varieties include Winter Red, Berry Poppins, Winter Gold and Red Sprite. Most cultivars are red, with variances in shade from dark maroon to tangerine-red. Some are vivid orange and others are almost yellow.
Without the cover of brown leaves, the stems of winter berry holly become a focal point, drawing the eye to their color. Especially impressive in the snow, winter berry holly are great in mass plantings, mixed into natural areas, or as an accent in a native garden.
One big question about berry-bearing hollies is whether you need a pollinator. Some varieties require a specific male pollinator plant. Deciduous hollies usually always require a certain kind of male to pollinate the fruit-bearing females.
Many evergreen varieties are easier, and often rely on nature to provide them with sufficient pollination. Native hollies that are present in wooded or natural areas can often provide landscape cultivars with what they need to produce fruit. Before planting a certain variety, do your homework. Chances are you won’t need to worry about planting a male plant.
Other options for fall and winter berries include aronia, mahonia, spice bush, aucuba, cotoneaster, viburnum and callicarpa. Depending on the species, these plants offer seasonal berry color in the winter garden or cut for indoor décor. Keep in mind that certain non-native plants can be aggressive, and aren’t great sources of nutrition for wildlife. Nandina, for example, has phenomenal clusters of red berries, but can be toxic to birds and other wildlife.
Pruning berry stems for holiday décor is easy and readily available if you’ve got them in your landscape. Winter berry holly are perfect as a stand alone fresh arrangement. Boughs of berry heavy evergreen foliage can be cut and incorporated into wreaths, table arrangements and mantle pieces. Keep in mind that evergreen foliage doesn’t hold up as long indoors as that of other conifers, so you may need to refresh your cuttings periodically throughout the season.
Plants that produce winter berries are a great choice for the garden. After all, most gardeners have a hard time staying indoors throughout the colder months. We might as well plant a few things that can give us a glow during the dormant days of winter.