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Embracing the Beauty of Winterberry Holly

By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Shrubs
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Shrubs

As the winter season approaches, many gardeners begin the search for ways to bring color and vibrancy to their landscapes. A wide selection of shrubs have qualities that fill this role admirably, but one in particular shines brightly during the colder months - winterberry holly. Known for its striking display of bright red berries against a backdrop of snow, this native shrub is a popular choice for winter interest.

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Known botanically as Ilex verticillata, winterberry holly is a deciduous shrub native to eastern North America. One of the things that makes winterberry holly special is its remarkable ability to retain its fruit long into the winter, adding a burst of color to the otherwise drab winter landscape.

Winterberry holly is an adaptable plant that will tolerate a variety of conditions, including clay soils, and may be used for rain gardens as well as general landscaping and cutting gardens.

But perhaps one of the most exciting features of winterberry holly is how it supports wildlife. Songbirds flock to gardens to feast on winterberries once they have ripened, which can be anywhere from early winter to late winter, depending on your location.

This hardy shrub typically reaches heights of 6 to 15 feet, but several cultivars are a more compact size, making them more suitable for various garden settings. Let's take a closer look at three remarkable Proven Winners® ColorChoice® cultivars that are a more landscape-friendly size:

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Berry Heavy® Ilex verticillata

As the name suggests, Berry Heavy is celebrated for prolific berry production. This cultivar boasts an abundance of vivid red berries that stand out brilliantly against the shrub's dark green foliage. With its compact, upright growth habit, Berry Heavy is an excellent choice for smaller gardens or tight spaces. It’s hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3-9 and still makes an impressive statement in the garden at its full 6-8’ height and width.

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Berry Heavy® Gold Ilex verticillata

Berry Heavy Gold is a delightful variation of the red species that produces an abundant display of large, bright gold fruit in fall. It makes a very showy mass planting or cut branch and creates a captivating visual display in winter gardens. Like Berry Heavy, it’s hardy in zones 3-9 and reaches the same 6-8’ height and width.

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Berry Poppins® Ilex verticillata

Berry Poppins is a dwarf winterberry holly that packs a punch in terms of berry production. Despite its smaller size, this cultivar produces an abundance of bright red berries, making it a favorite among gardeners looking for a more compact option. Berry Poppins is an excellent choice for border plantings or container gardens as it only reaches 3-4’ tall and wide.

Pollination: The Key to Berry Production
An important aspect to consider when growing winterberry hollies is pollination. Hollies are generally male or female - if you want berries on a female plant, you will need to plant a male nearby. Without a nearby male plant, the female shrubs will produce flowers but not berries.

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A recommended male pollinator for winterberry holly is Mr. Poppins® Ilex verticillata. This male cultivar is the ideal partner as it blooms at the same time, ensuring successful pollination. Mr. Poppins is a compact, 3-4’ shrub that doesn’t take up too much extra garden space, as one male holly cultivar for every five females is all that’s needed to ensure adequate pollination.

Easy-care winterberry holly can be planted in full sun to part shade, is adaptable to most soil (even clay), tolerates wet sites, and pruning is generally not needed. If desired, they can be trimmed in late winter.

Winterberry holly is the perfect choice for creating a winter garden that's both visually stunning and ecologically beneficial, providing food for birds during the cold months. So, embrace the beauty of winterberry holly and make your winter garden come alive with its vibrant colors and natural charm.

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