Looking for winter interest and want to feed your hungry birds when other food sources have been exhausted? Plant a winterberry – or actually, plant two! A multi-trunked shrub with a rounded, upright habit. Suckering. Tiny flowers are described as inconspicuous, but look closely – they are delicate and beautiful! Flowers appear on new growth.
Like other members of the Holly family, winterberry is dioecious – male and female flowers are on separate plants. Flowers on fertilized female plants turn into dense clusters of bright red berries that appear to be attached directly to the twig (although they have short pedicels). Berries appear before leaf drop in the fall, and persist on the branches through winter. Unlike other members of the holly family, winterberries are deciduous, not evergreen, and the leaves lack sharp teeth. Leaves of straight species have insignificant fall color; may turn shades of maroon.
Attracts birds. Provides cover and nesting sites. Special value to native bees.
How do you know if you have a male or female winterberry? Male flowers have four stamens, they lack the female pistil, and are borne in clusters of seven to twelve. Female flowers have a globose pistil and are borne singly or in clusters of three. Generally one male winterberry will be sufficient for pollinating 6-10 female plants. Here is an article from The Ohio State University Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine (BYGL for short) with detailed photos of male and female flowers: https://bygl.osu.edu/node/1623
Easily grown in average, acidic, medium to wet soils. Prefers moist, acidic, organic loams but is fairly adaptable. Good tolerance for poorly drained soils. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth appears.
Ilex have a slow growth rate (12″ or less a year).
Height: 6-12 ft.
Spread: 6-12 ft.
Bloom time: June to July
Sun: full sun to part shade
Water: medium to wet
According to Rutgers University, Ilex sp. are “seldom severely damaged” by deer.
photo credit of flowers: Tigerente (male flowers are on top; female flowers are on the bottom)