Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
AS OUR HUDSON VALLEY GARDENS go leafless and become more transparent, Ilex verticillata (winterberry) shines. The scarlet-red to coral-orange fruits really pop against leafless, gray-black stems as the foliage yellows and drops.
Winterberries are most colorful and give the best punch from October to December in our region. We share the vibrant fruits with migrating and resident birds. In the last few years, flocks of robins discover our winterberry colonies anytime from Thanksgiving to Christmas when they devour the plentiful fruits in a day-long drunken orgy. The first time this happened I was highly annoyed that birds (particularly robins!) were depriving me of my winter color fix. I’ve learned to be more tolerant and live in better step with nature – Andrew may disagree! Now we depend on other plants like colorful twiggy dogwoods and willows for prolonged winter color.
Ilex verticillata cultivars favored at Loomis Creek:
Winter Red – luscious, 3/8”-diameter, intensely red fruits arranged in spiral patterns along stems; male pollinator = ‘Southern Gentleman’
‘Winter Gold’ – coral-orange, 3/8”-diameter fruits; sport of Winter Red; male pollinator = ‘Southern Gentleman’
‘Sparkleberry’ – robust hybrid with heavy red fruit set; male pollinator = ‘Apollo’
Note: For optimum pollination and fruit set, plant at least 1 male plant within 50 feet of every 10 females.
Growing tips: Ilex verticillata is a wetland species by nature, but readily adapts to most garden soils. If happy, plants will colonize slowly, suckering (sending up new stems) from underground roots. At Loomis Creek, we’ve planted winterberry on our wet, clay slopes above Loomis Creek (yes, there is a “real” creek by that name) where they prosper. Deer like to browse on winterberries, so use deer repellent or fencing.