The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Shrubs for Winter Interest

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

As the colors of fall fade to the grays of winter wouldn't it be nice to see something besides brown twigs. Luckily many landscape plants have attractive fruit which can be beautifully accentuated by evergreens or a drift of snow. Consider adding some of these beauties to your landscape for their beautiful winter show.

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima') is a 6-10 foot tall, widely adaptable shrub with brilliant red fruit along with its red fall color. The fruit persists into winter since the birds don't seem to like them. This is not the same plant as chokecherry.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous shrub reaching 6-10 feet tall. The fruit is usually red to orange-red. The fruit retains its color throughout the winter. Winterberry is the hardiest of the hollies. It does well in wet sites even standing water. The cut twigs will last for months indoors even without water. As with most hollies, female and male plants are necessary for pollination and therefore good fruit set. One male can pollinate 2 or 3 females. 'Raritan Chief' is a good male.

A winterberry selection 'Maryland Beauty' has lustrous dark green leaves and tight clusters of shiny red fruit. 'Shaver' grows to 5 feet tall and has orange-red fruit. Its one half inch fruit is among the largest of the winterberry cultivars. The fruit is clustered profusely along the stem and holds color for two months. 'Red Sprite' is nice for smaller landscapes. 'Sparkleberry'and 'Winter Red' are among the many fine selections.

Who can resist a rose with great hips? Try these roses for their beautiful flowers and winter fruit show:

  • Shrub roses - 'Bonica,' 'Carefree Beauty‚' 'Golden Wings'
  • Rugosa roses - 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup‚' 'Jens Munk‚' 'Rubra'
  • Rosa glauca

Many of the viburnums have a good fruit display although sometimes the show doesn't last into winter. Viburnum dilatatum 'Erie' is 6 feet tall and 9 feet wide with creamy white flowers in May. Its late show includes yellow, orange and red fall color and persistent red fruit starting in August and turning a coral pink after the first frost. 'Iroquois' is similar to 'Erie' but larger reaching 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. V. dilatatum 'Michael Dodge' is covered with yellow fruit.

Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' has glossy green leaves in summer with a vibrant red purple fall color. Fruits are an interesting white to pink to blue by fall. Other viburnums for a good fruit display include 'Mohican‚' 'Shasta‚' 'Shoshoni‚' 'Summer Snowflake‚' 'Alleghany' and 'Onondaga.'

For a shrub with subtle beauty in winter, how about the northern bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica. Since its native to the eastern shore of the U.S., it's no surprise that it does well in salty conditions along roadsides and in infertile soils. Definitely a plant that deserves more use. The gray blue waxy berries of the female plants persist sometimes well into spring. In case you were wondering, the wax of the berries is used to make bayberry candles. Crush the leaves, twigs or berries for a quick hit of bayberry fragrance. The female cultivar 'Myda' and its accompanying male 'Myriman' are nice selections for fruit display.

Twig color can also add interest to a winter garden. Try redtwig or yellowtwig dogwoods or Japanese kerria for beautiful twig color. Some good redtwig selections are 'Cardinal'or 'Isanti.' 'Silver and Gold' dogwood has creamy white variegated leaves with yellow stems. 'Flaviramea' also has yellow twigs.

Winter lasts too long to be forgotten when planning your landscape.

Sign up now for the Master Gardener program. Deadline in Champaign county is December 6.

View Article Archive >>