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GardenSMART :: A Spectacular Winter Show

A Spectacular Winter Show

By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® Color Choice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

If you live in zone 6 or colder, by now your landscape may be looking somewhat bleak unless you've added some plants to create winter interest. A great choice to bring color into the brown wilderness that is your garden in colder months is winterberry holly.

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Easy care, spectacular color

Ilex verticillata, commonly known as winterberry holly, is an easy plant to grow - it's native to North America, disease-resistant, requires little-to-no pruning, and can grow 3 to 6 feet tall, depending on the variety.

Winterberry is a deciduous holly; it's pleasant and green in the summer, but the real payoff comes when it drops its leaves in autumn and you are left with a spectacular winter show of thousands of brightly colored red-orange or gold berries clinging to every stem. These branches look beautiful in your garden and can be cut and brought inside for holiday décor. However, sometimes people who have these shrubs don't get any fruit at all… there are simple reasons why this can happen.

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Where are my berries?

It's important to note that when you plant a winterberry shrub you can't plant just one if your goal is to get berries in the winter, and considering its name, why wouldn't it be?

Winterberry holly, and all holly varieties in general, are unique in that each plant is all male or all female. In the spring, winterberry has very small, inconspicuous white flowers, with male flowers and female flowers found on different individual plants. A male plant will produce flowers that pollinate the female plant, but it won't develop fruit in the winter. You need a male plant in order for your female shrubs to develop berries, however you only need a single male to pollinate about 5 females, so you can get a broad display of color with just one pollinator plant.

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Siting your winterberry holly

Since the male plant isn't much to look at in the winter, you can site it in the back corner of your garden if you like. It only needs to be planted within 50'/15.25m of your female plants, which is about the average distance you can expect an insect to fly when pollinating plant-to-plant. Once pollinated, your female plants will produce berries in the fall that will brighten your garden for several weeks, and possibly months, into the winter as they need several weeks of cold weather to soften before the birds will become interested in them.  

The all-important buds

Winterberry holly is easy to care for and requires little to no pruning, in fact, the fruit on your female plant develops from the flower buds – so if you are concerned about controlling the size of this plant, try not to prune your winterberry holly in the spring so you don't trim off those all-important buds.

Where to find them

Proven Winners® Color Choice® has several varieties of Ilex verticillata that have been chosen for a dependable crop of abundant fruit and outstanding color. BERRY HEAVY® and the space-saving dwarf variety, BERRY POPPINS®, will produce the bright red-orange berries and BERRY HEAVY® Gold produces big, bright gold fruit. Plant both colors and place a MR. POPPINS® nearby to ensure a bold display of color deep into the winter season. For these and other Proven Winners® Color Choice® varieties of winterberry holly, go to


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