Q.: I love a cheerful holly bush that I have in my garden because it has pretty berries in the winter. I notice that birds like the berries, too. I would like to know some other shrubs that have colorful berries.
A.: Don’t let your garden give you SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). We need to have light and color to brighten our mood in winter.
There are many trees and shrubs that produce brilliant colorful berries. Hollies are a good choice because there are so many different varieties that can fit in any type of landscape situation. When we think of holly, we think of spiny, evergreen trees or shrubs with red berries that are used during the holidays to decorate the home; however, they are not all evergreen with spiny leaves nor do they all have red berries. Some hollies are deciduous, and some have berries that are not red.
Deciduous hollies are great landscape plants because they are more cold-hardy than their evergreen relatives, and they work well in mass plantings or when used as specimens. The berries without leaves are striking, and they provide food for wildlife. Most Chinese and English Hollies that produce berries do so only on the female plant and require a male pollinator planted nearby in order to produce fruit. Japanese Hollies have no such requirement.
Hollies vary in height greatly with some varieties, reaching above 30 feet, while some dwarf varieties may be as small as three feet. It is important to choose varieties carefully according to space requirements.
Some beautiful deciduous hollies to consider for the landscape are Possumhaw, Common Winterberry, Japanese winterberry and Sparkleberry.
Possumhaw holly, Ilex decidua, has an upright, spreading habit with a height of 20 feet under cultivation. American holly, Ilex opaca, will pollinate this species. There are several cultivars, including the yellow-fruited “Byer’s Golden.” “Red Escort” is considered one of the best male pollinators.
Common winterberry or black alder, Ilex verticillata, is one of the best-known species. It grows 6 to 10 feet in height with a similar spread and is very tolerant of wet soils. “Red Sprite” is a compact, rounded form, which works well as a foundation planting. “Jim Dandy” and “Southern Gentleman” are male pollinators for this species
Japanese winterberry, Ilex serrata, is similar to common winterberry, but has smaller fruits that develop color early, by the end of summer. In addition to red-fruited cultivars, “Leucocarpa” is white or pale yellow fruited and “Xanthocarpa” is yellow-fruited.
There are several hybrids of Ilex verticillata and Ilex serrata, including “Sparkleberry.” It has an upright growth habit and can reach an ultimate height of 15 feet. “Apollo,” the male pollinator for “Sparkleberry,” is also a U.S. National Arboretum introduction.
Evergreen hollies such as Foster Holly, Nellie R. Stevens, Burford, Yaupon and Grape holly (Mahonia) are familiar to many Southern gardeners. Other berried shrubs that make a nice winter display include Cotoneaster lacetus which has red fruit, is evergreen and grows 6 to 10 feet high and wide; nandina domestica with red fruits and a white fruited selection, also; and pyracantha species and cultivars known as firethorn for the red, orange or yellow fruits.
Don’t be sad; add some berry bright colors.