Winterberry: Native Shrubs That Multitask

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At Herring Run Nursery our favorite native shrubs are ones that can multitask: they are beautiful, attract wildlife, and help reduce storm water pollution.

One of the very best of multitasking native shrubs is Ilex verticillata, or winterberry holly.

A gorgeous landscape plant, winterberry is a native deciduous holly. After the leaves drop in fall, the plant displays the gorgeous bright red berries we associate with hollies.

Red Sprite winterberry
‘Red Sprite’ winterberry is a compact a variety for small yards or rain gardens. Photo: Missouri Botanical Garden

Branches loaded with the berries can be used in table arrangements or in wreaths, but the real joy comes in late winter or early spring when the birds swoop in to pick the bushes clean.

Winterberry is tolerant of both drought and wet soils, which makes it a good choice for rain gardens or stream banks.

Herring Run Nursery offers several cultivars of winterberry, with ‘Red Sprite‘ being one of the most popular for rain gardens because of its compact size.

While ‘Red Sprite’ grows to a height of 3-5 feet, gardeners with more room might choose a larger variety. This year, Herring Run Nursery will also be offering ‘Winter Red‘ and ‘Maryland Beauty‘ both of which attain a more typical 6-8 feet in mature height and slightly more prolific fruit production.

Winterberry plants are dioecious, which means that individual plants are either female or male. The females produce the attractive berries, but only in the presence of a male plants.

It’s perfectly fine for females to outnumber males and the male plants need only be within 50 to 100 feet of the females, a fact that provides flexibility in the design of your landscape. Be sure to pick a male variety that blooms at the same time as the female, though. This chart should help:

Winterberry pollinator chart

Whether you want plants for a rain garden, a wildlife garden, or simply a more beautiful yard we think winterberry is a great choice.