The Beauty of Winterberry Hollies

Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Plants

In case you haven’t met before, I’d like to introduce you to the Winterberry holly. Few landscape plants are as captivatingly beautiful during the dreary days of winter as this deciduous holly. That’s right, it’s not an evergreen–the Winterberry holly does lose its leaves every year. But in this instance, it only exposes the deeper beauty this holly hides within.

But first, a little back story.

As spring emerges, long, delicate, bright green leaves begin to sprout from fine, twiggy branches to create an oval to oval-rounded shrub. Its ornamental appearance can only be described as quiet. Not a showstopper, more like a wallflower. What is worthy of note is that this multistemmed shrub is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions. Winterberry occurs naturally in swamps, roadside ditches and other poorly drained area, making it a great choice for any poorly drained areas in your landscape. It also grows quite well in ordinary garden soil but experiences the best growth and fruiting when the plant is not subjected to drought. They generally grow to be about 6 to 12 feet in height with a 3 to 12 foot spread and is content with full sun to partial shade lighting.

Come the summer months, this shrub continues on without much notice aside from some sweetly delicate greenish-white flowers that bloom from June to July. Planted in numbers, Winterberry hollies can be used to create a hedge for privacy, definition of space and so forth. And because of its affinity for moist soil, a location near a pool or water feature would also be ideal. A very low-maintenance plant, insects and diseases are nothing really to speak of; these plants are very easy to care for. Pruning, as with most trees and shrubs, will help keep its shape.

Autumn is when this plant shows up to the big dance ready to strut its stuff. Large, succulent red berries appear along the branches of the female plant. The berries remain on the plant until they ripen and sweeten in flavor, attracting overwintering chickadees, blue jays and other birds. Any berries that persist until spring are a favorite of cedar waxwings. And yes, I did mention the berries are on the female plant. All hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. In order for the female to produce berries, it must be matched with a male pollenizer. Good news: a single male plant will provide sufficient pollen for a number of females planted in the general vicinity. Not-so-good news: choosing a male that blossoms during the same week as the female is critical for fruit set. To take some of the guesswork out of matching up compatible male and female hollies, the Nursery Yard at Bucks Country Gardens is stocked with pairings that are known to be successful mates–call it an arranged marriage!

Much like its name hints at, Winterberry’s prime season for applaud is the cold and colorless days of winter. When most other plants have gone dormant, the big, bold clusters of bright red berries catch your attention. No longer a wallflower, indeed the showstopper. These abundant berries are on bare stems and add such a fascinating highlight to your winter landscape. They are even more spectacular against a blanket of white snow. Sometimes referred to as “Christmas Berries”, cut stems are a fantastic addition to your Christmas decorating or winter wedding. Mix them into an arrangement with fresh cut greens, white birch branches or simply on their own in an heirloom glass vase. They will remain in good condition for months as long as they are not kept in water.

At Bucks Country Gardens, David Jones, our resident Horticulturalist, has had a longtime love affair with Winterberry hollies. A true admirer of the species, David appreciates the year-round interest these hollies have to offer. He admires the light and airy appearance of the shrub, with its long leaves and interesting bark on multistemmed branches. Truly, they are an easy to care for plant that, when planted in an agreeable location with an equally agreeable mate, will reward you with gorgeous berry clusters year after year. The next time you see David in the Nursery Yard, be sure to stop and ask him about Winterberry hollies. I’m sure you’ll see his heart skip a beat as he warmly speaks about his affinity for such a wonderful holly that probably deserves a home in your garden (and heart) as well.

David Jones | Horticulturist, Arborist and Customer Service

Adriene Vesci | Graphic Designer and Advertising Coordinator