December is the perfect month to enjoy this eyecatching deciduous holly whose brilliant berries, clustered on bare branches, provide splashes of color to the early winter landscape. Commonly called Winterberry, this North American native is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Florida, usually growing in low lying areas, since it doesn?t mind wet feet. It is nonetheless adaptable to many soil types and will be happy enough in dryer locations. A large number of clones have been selected for their eventual stature, as well as for variation in fruit color and size.
As you probably know, the genus Ilex is dioecious, meaning there are different male and female flowering plants, and they have to tango for fruit set. Take note that there are earlier and later flowering selections of Ilex verticillata and it is a good idea to plant a male counterpart that blooms at the same time as the female clone. Some of the earlier blooming female clones such as ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Berry Nice’ should be pollinated with the male clone ‘Jim Dandy’. Use ‘Southern Gentleman?’, a late-blooming male pollinator for ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Capacon’, ‘Sparkleberry’ and the other later blooming girls.
Ilex verticillata waits until fall to become a star when the berries begin to color, so it is best sited in a spot where it does not have to be commanding all season long. Remember Winterberry does sucker, but this can be useful where you want to create a screen to attract wildlife. A number of years ago, we used it in repetition behind one of our beds that borders a wet area, and the planting now provides us with a bounty of branches for cutting. Eventual plant size is dependent on which cultivars you select, and they range from 3-4′ to 12′ or more. Plants enjoy sunny or partially shaded exposures, soil that is acid to neutral, and are hardy through zone 4.