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Winter Berries

Fruiting shrubs and trees can be real showstoppers in the winter landscape, and they serve another vital purpose--to help feed birds and other critters.

Nothing brightens up a frosty landscape like winter berries. Fruiting shrubs and trees can be real showstoppers in the winter landscape, and they serve another vital purpose--to help feed birds and other critters.


Nandina domestica, also called heavenly bamboo, grows to about six feet. "I love it because it's an evergreen," says landscape architect Michael Glassman. "It has colorful leaves even in the wintertime, and it has these incredible red berries (figure A)."

Nandina is actually a member of the barberry family but acquired the name "bamboo" due to its cane-like growth habit. Not only is it hardy and drought-tolerant, it also makes a great foundation plant. Plant in full sun and enjoy the added charm of red leaves to complement the red berries.


Cotoneaster also produces beautiful red berries. In fall the deciduous groundcover cotoneaster's leaves turn a bright red color. After the leaves fall off, the weeping habit and the berries makes it a specimen plant in the winter landscape. Evergreen and upright forms are also available.


Hollies (Ilex sp.) produce striking red and even yellow berries (depending on the selection). Their clean evergreen foliage (figure B) makes them excellent background plants.

There are also deciduous varieties of Ilex, including winterberry (Ilex verticillata), that thrive in colder climates. Bright scarlet-red to orange-red berries adorn the bare stems of winterberry (figure C).


This orange-berried pyracantha (figure D) is also an evergreen, winter-berried shrub. According to Glassman, the birds love to eat the berries. It grows about ten feet tall, and it makes a dramatic addition to your landscape.


Check out the saffron yellow capsules of Euonymus myrianthus (figure E). Over time, this outer-packaging opens to reveal delicate red berries inside. The real gift, however, is all the little lanterns brightening a winter day.


Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) is a vibrant violet vision from the verbena family. Although it doesn't look like much the rest of the year, the colorful purple berries are quite a spectacle to behold in winter (figure F).


Winter berries don't always have to be red. Texas privet, or Ligustrum texanum, makes wonderful screening, growing to about 35 to 40 feet tall, depending on conditions. Abundant blue berries resemble clusters of grapes and are complemented by evergreen foliage (figure G). And like many winter berries, it's safest to consider them food for the soul, rather than food for the family.

Espaliered winter berries

The great thing about winter berries is their versatility in the landscape throughout the year. This pyrantha has been espaliered (figure H). (Espaliered is a French term describing how a plant has been trained to grow flat on a trellis or a wall.)

The trellis can be painted the same color as the wall. As the plant grows, weave the branches through the trellis. Prune away any lateral growth (these are the branches that grow away from the trellis). This espalier will soften this wall and give it seasonal interest.

If there are any drawbacks to winter berries, it would be the mess they can make in your yard. But the good news is that birds and squirrels will be happy to do the clean-up for you!

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