If you are looking for a shrub to bring winter interest to your garden, look no further than Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). A Wisconsin native, this deciduous holly is an underappreciated gem. Its stems are cloaked in clusters of bright red berries throughout the winter months, providing a welcome flash of color in the drab winter landscape.
Easy Care Shrub
Winterberry is an easy-care shrub. In its native habitat it grows in wet areas, so it is very tolerant of slow draining soils. This makes it a good choice for rain gardens or low-lying garden sites. Despite its tolerance for moisture, it does not require it and will happily grow in any good garden soil. It does prefer slightly acidic soil, however, so will benefit from an annual application of soil acidifier in our highly alkaline southeastern Wisconsin soils. Growth rate is slow to moderate so little to no pruning is necessary. Ilex verticillata is not prone to insect or disease damage and is resistant to deer browsing.
You’ll Need a Boy & a Girl
Ilex verticillata plants are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. It is the female plants that produce the showy red berries (yellow fruiting varieties are also available), but they will only do so if a male plant is nearby to pollinate their flowers. For this reason, you will need to purchase a male plant along with your female plants in order to enjoy the magnificent winter fruit display. Only one male is needed to pollinate multiple females, and he should be planted no more than 60 feet away.
Winterberry in a Nutshell
Mature height: 4’ to 8’, depending on variety
Mature spread: 3’ to 6’, depending on variety
Growth form: Upright, oval habit
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3
Flowers: Insignificant flowers in spring on new wood. Pollination is required in order for female plants to produce fruit. Prune, if desired, in late winter
Foliage Color: Green foliage. Foliage drops in winter, exposing the bare stems covered in brilliant red fruit.
Light requirement: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Water Requirements: Thrives in wet soil but does not require it. Adaptable to a range of soil conditions.
Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate
Maintenance: Hardy plants, not prone to insect or disease issues. Both male and female plants are required in order to get fruit set. Prefers slightly acidic soil so will benefit from the addition of soil acidifier in our alkaline native soils.
Especially valuable for:
Outstanding winter interest
Rain garden or low, wet areas
Wildlife value (fruit prized by Robins in the spring)