Winterberry’s surprise

Prior to acquiring a potted plant about three winters back, whenever I saw a fruiting winterberry, I would drool over the bare woody branches studded with bright red berries and wished I had one growing in our yard where I could see it all the time, and also harvest some branches to bring inside for decorating purposes. But, what always went against my wish was the timing: not only would it slip my mind until it was quite late in the season to find them in garden centers, I also wanted to get a fruiting plant to make sure it is a female.

So desperate was I to get one, that in addition to looking locally, I would make it a point to check the specialty nursery in the historic district of Colonial Williamsburg whenever we were there during the holiday season, unfortunately, with no luck.  So, when the kind folks at Boulevard Flower Gardens in Colonial Heights offered to fill my order at a time when none were available anywhere, just the way I wanted with a cultivar called “Sparkleberry,” I couldn’t have been happier.

At the time of purchase, the associate at the garden center suggested that since in most hollies male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, I should grow a male nearby; of which the mental note I made to myself turned out be rather short-lived. In other words, I never got around to plant a pollinator. Subsequently, whether due to loneliness or some other reasons, the plant almost didn’t make it the following growing seasons – let alone bear any berries.

This summer, however, to my surprise and delight, the winterberry bounced back in a big way in spring and is now covered with berries, despite the fact that we never planted a pollinator; evidently, there is a compatible male plant growing somewhere in our neighborhood of which I am much thankful.

What makes winterberry different from most other hollies is that it is a deciduous species; while the foliage is not as attractive as those of other hollies, in fall, once the leaves drop and the berries begin to ripen into their brilliant red color, it is a picture-perfect sight, especially against the backdrop of freshly fallen snow. Therefore, grow winterberry at places where plants can easily be seen from, in fall and winter, at sunny locations in well-drained soil. Pretty not only in the garden, but fruiting branches make very festive additions to wreaths, centerpieces and table decorations.

Hollies, we know, are one of the most versatile, multipurpose landscape plants in any garden; their popularity is noticeably higher during holiday season when sprigs and berries are much sought-after for adding to wreaths and other decorations, although flower arrangers use green branches just about any time of the year to make a line or use as filler material. And, hollies provide food  and shelter for our feathered friends too.

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Mail-order catalogs are beginning to trickle in the mail now. Try keeping them at a place where they are easily accessible for browsing during winter months.

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