Crazy for Red Berries

Martha Young
Adams County Master Gardener

Here it is the middle of winter and there are still lots of interesting plants and landscaping features to look at. Actually in some cases winter makes attractive plantings stand out more. The distraction of leaves can hide the bones of a garden. If your garden satisfies you now, it is probably because there are evergreen plants to see in the winter. With or without snow, bare branches and evergreen branches can hold your interest and give you a reason to go outside or at least look out the window.

One plant that will attract you is Ilex verticillata 'Jim Dandy' for the male and 'Red Sprite' for the female. These plants are deciduous holly shrubs and many people call them by their common name winterberry. When they lose their leaves in the winter the outstanding feature is the mass of red berries that will last till almost spring. Only the female produces berries, but the male is necessary for fertilization. All hollies need male and female plants to produce berries.

Another plant that is attractive in winter is Gaultheria procumbens 'Very Berry.' Winterberry is its common name. This plant is a low-growing evergreen perennial that is suitable for slightly acidic, organic-rich soil in sun to part shade. Its height is only 8 inches and it will spread to 12 to 18 inches. Because of this small size, you may want to grow it in a container that can stay outside all winter (concrete or metal to prevent blowing over in those winter winds). You may be familiar with this plant as the small teaberry plant that grows in the forest. If you are lucky enough to find them before the animals get them, the teaberries are good to eat and they smell like teaberries. This newer plant is the cultivated variety-it has larger leaves and berries. They are also edible and taste like teaberry gum. To see this plant growing, you can visit the Warehime-Myers Mansion in Hanover. The cement urns that are on either side of the front steps contain these plants. They were planted last July and if they are successful, we will probably fill all the urns on the porch with them.

I have given you two plants that have the same common name-winterberry. I also gave the Latin name for clarity. Many plants in our country and the world have the same common names, but each plant has only one Latin name. Every daisy isn't a daisy but every daisy and flower that looks like a daisy has a Latin name so you will know exactly what you are buying or asking for.

Next on the red berry list is Nandina domestica-its Latin name. Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo is the common name even though it is not related to bamboo. There are two types of Nandina-one grows tall, about 4-5 feet and narrow, 1 to 2 feet in diameter. They fit well in a narrow space. These plants have a beautiful appearance in the winter. The leaves turn shades of pink through red and burgundy and the berries that start out as a white froth of flowers now turn a bright red. Once the berries turn red they last for a long time. You can take them in the house and they will keep their bright color for years. Leaves and flowers will last for most of the winter and in spring the leaves will drop off. Don't panic-new, green leaves will soon appear for the summer. The other type of Nandina is a dwarf with a rounded shrub shape. The biggest difference in the two types is that the small shrub does not get the berries. Its main claim to fame is that the leaves and stems are very close together and when the weather starts to get cold all the leaves turn from greenish pink to a burgundy-red color and also last through the winter. Nandina is hardy to Zone 6 (our zone) but may need protection in a very cold winter such as this has been.

A red berried tree that makes a lovely addition to a wildlife-friendly landscape it the Washington Hawthorn Tree (Crataegus phaenopyrum). As with other hawthorns, this 25' tall tree, rounded tree produces gorgeous red berries that are a favorite source of food for birds in the barren winter months, despite the thorny branches. Bronze and red fall foliage is only an added bonus, as is this plant's hardiness, surviving with ease even in zone 3, yet still performing well through the heat of zone 9. A great plant to consider for year-round interest.

Pyracantha or firethorns are evergreen shrubs with shiny leaves. Blooming occurs in late spring or early summer in masses of small white fragrant flowers. From October to January their most attractive feature is abundant and obvious in the bright orange to red berries. Because of the thorns along the branches this is a good shrub to use along a fence or property boundary to deter trespassers. There are also varieties that are thornless.

There are also some attractive trunks and stems on leafless trees in winter. The most obvious is red-stemmed dogwood, Cornus alba. Winter interest is this plant's middle name. The stems can be red, orange or yellow and make a striking statement when planted in a mass of 5 to 10 plants, creating a bright stroke of color in the grayness of winter. The flowers and leaves are unremarkable in summer but do produce white or blue berries that birds like. The main reason to plant this shrub is for the colored stems. Try to place it against a light colored background so the stems show up in winter. The brightest colored stems are the newest ones so stems older than 3 years should be pruned to the ground and new stems are encouraged. These dogwoods form runners so the base of the plant will consist of many stems.

If you are lucky enough to have some of these plants in your own yard they will certainly brighten your landscape. And, remember, after dreary January and February, you can watch for for

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