The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Shrubs that are Winter Show Offs

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The first picks for the landscape shrub team are the spring and summer players. We are overwhelmingly flower centric; therefore, the shrubs without showy flowers are left to languish in obscurity. For some shrubs the flowers don't deliver the show, but the resulting superlative fruits perform a crowd-pleasing winter play when summer shrubs are slumbering

Few plants rival winterberry for a winter fruit show. Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a twiggy deciduous shrub reaching 6-10 feet tall and happy plants often sucker to form colonies. Winterberry is the most cold tolerant of the hollies. The leaves are dark green in summer, but do not have the spiny teeth typical of the more commonly known evergreen hollies.

Winterberry may go unnoticed in summer, but as the fruit ripens in August and September the show begins. Each branch tip is firmly festooned with a profusion of marble-sized cherry red fruit approaching the exuberance of a three year old kid's art project. The bright red fruit retains its color throughout the winter into February and even March. The cut twigs will last for months indoors, even without water.

The winterberry cultivar Winter Red® continually receives high marks for its fruit display. Introduced by Simpson Nursery in Vincennes Indiana, Winter Red® is also known for its lustrous dark green leaves in summer. The profusion of cherry red fruit on Winter Red® against a backdrop of snow is a sight to behold.

'Sparkleberry' is a winterberry hybrid selection introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. It is another beauty with 3/8 inch brilliant red fruits that hang on throughout the winter, even into March. A border of upright 'Sparkleberry' shrubs resembles soldiers standing at attention. 'Apollo' winterberry hybrid, also from the U.S. National Arboretum, is a male selection and good pollinizer for 'Sparkleberry' and Winter Red®.

'Red Sprite' as its name implies is a bit smaller selection at 3 to 5 feet tall and more compact in growth. 'Jim Dandy' and 'Apollo' are good pollinizers for 'Red Sprite'.

Why do winterberries need pollinizers? As with most hollies winterberry has male and female plants. The females bear the fruit, but the male plants are necessary for pollination and therefore good fruit set. A one-to-one ratio is not needed. Generally one male plant planted nearby will pollinate 6-10 female plants. The crucial criteria for pollinizers are the male plants must flower at the same time as the female plants.

Winterberry shrubs are brilliant planted in mass as a shrub border. Native to swamps throughout the U.S. winterberry is prefect for wet sites, even standing water next to ponds. Winterberry as with most hollies prefers high organic slightly acidic soils.

Ok, maybe you don't have the room for a winterberry in your landscape. Have you ever thought about roses for winter fruit display? Who can resist a rose with big hips? I'm not sure why but the fruits of roses are called "hips". Try these roses for their beautiful flowers and winter hip show: shrub roses - 'Bonica', 'Carefree Beauty', 'Golden Wings' ; rugosa roses 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup', 'Jens Munk', 'Rubra'; and Rosa glauca.

As the colors of summer fade to the greys of winter wouldn't it be nice to see something besides brown twigs. Consider adding some of these beauties to your landscape for their stunning winter show attractively accentuated by evergreens or a drift of snow.

Training for Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts the end of January 2016 in three locations; Champaign, Danville and Onarga; however, applications are due November 27, 2015. Check out our web site for more information and to apply online Questions? Contact Ava Heap (217.333.7672) or Jenney Hanrahan (217.442.8615)

For information about other county programs, check with your local UI Extension office.

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