Knowledge to Grow – The Ruby Reds of Winter

I am a big fan of shrubs with red berries for brightening the winter landscape.  They also provide a food source for wildlife and come in quite handy for using in holiday décor.

One of my favorites is Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). It is a native, deciduous shrub that is related to the evergreen hollies but is much hardier. Reaching heights of 6 to 8 feet, its bright, shiny red berries are easily spotted alongside roadways. It prefers to grow in moist, acidic soil, a sunny or partially shaded area and is hardy in zones 4-9.

Like hollies, the sexes are on separate plants.  The berries are produced on the female plant and the male plant (no berries) is used only for pollination purposes.  The birds love to feast on these berries so you need to be quick about gathering cuttings if you want some for your holiday décor.

Tolerating many soil types and it’s easy to grow is the Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia).  These berries are quite tart and therefore not as palatable for the birds and will last for most of the winter.  It does make a good jam though for us humans.  This bush has a mature height of 6 to 10 feet, width of 3 to 5 feet and is hardy in zones 4-9.  Plant this bush in sun to partial shade and in wet or dry, acidic soil.  The foliage will turn a gorgeous red/purple in the fall.

The American Highbush Cranberry sports flat clusters of white flowers in the spring and the berries appear in late summer.  This bush can be grown in average to wet soil, in sun or partial shade and is hardy in zones 2-7.  A deciduous shrub that will grow 8 to 12 feet tall and just as wide, it will turn a red/purple color in the fall.  The berries are not only for the birds as they also make a fine jam or jelly.

Cranberry Cotoneaster has a low arching to mounding habit, small, glossy leaves, pink flower buds in the spring red fruit in the fall.  It will tolerate poor soil, drought and soil pHs.  The branches may root as they touch the ground.  This shrub does like to be planted in full sun and is very easy to grow.  Cotoneasters come in varying heights and widths and are hardy to zone 5.

The fruit of many berried trees and shrubs are important sources of food for robins, cedar waxwings, juncos, chickadees and many other birds.  Keep these small feathered friends in mind when choosing woody ornamentals for the home landscape in the spring.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co., and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener, Purdue Extension LaGrange County

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