Uses for a Winterberry Plant
November 27, 2020
Because of its adaptability and effortless growth habits, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) offers a number of possibilities for landscaping. A kind of holly, winterberry reaches heights of 16 feet from the wild, but typically tops out at about ten feet in the home garden. Winterberry is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Plant one male plant for every three to five female crops, since just female plants produce bright red berries.
Although winterberry adapts nicely to regular garden soil, the plant grows naturally in moist, swampy areas. This growth habit makes winterberry a wise choice for pond-side planting, boggy areas or garden spots using muddy, poorly drained soil. Even drainage ditches and other unsightly spots are beautified by the plant. When planted in a moist region, winterberry spreads by suckers that form in the bottom of the plant, finally forming clumps of trees that are attractive.
If you strive to make a wildlife-friendly habitat, winterberry is a good choice. The shrub offers nesting locations and protection for birds and other tiny animals during summer and spring. After the tree falls its leaves in autumn, the tiny berries offer sustenance for songbirds like blue jays, chickadees, woodpeckers, juncos, tanagers and finches. Cedar waxwings are attracted to berries that remain on the shrubs in early spring.
Although winterberry is a sort of holly, the plant does not have prickly leaves that remain green year-round. Rather, winterberry is a deciduous tree which loses its oval-shaped leaves in autumn. But there is nothing boring about winterberry in winter, as a single pollinated female can create thousands of bright red berries that continue through the majority of the winter. The lack of leaf makes the fruit even more apparent. To benefit from this winter display, plant winterberry next to a solid-color wall or facing a pine, fir or other dark green evergreen tree.
Low-growing winterberry makes attractive hedges. Plant varieties like “Red Sprite,” a tightly branching, dwarf variety that reaches compact heights of just about 3 feet, and then plant a low-growing male plant to offer pollination. Male varieties that bloom at the same time comprise “Jim Dandy,” which reaches heights of about 4 feet and “Southern Gentleman,” a slightly taller variety which grows to 6 feet.