Holly is a classic winter plant for Southern gardens. That’s thanks to its glossy, evergreen foliage; bright berries; and reliable garden interest in the depths of winter weather. One particular species of holly, from the genus Ilex, is fast becoming our favorite winter plant for Southern gardens. It’s winterberry (Ilex verticillata), and not only is its favorite season in the name, but it also provides an abundance of brightly colored berries. Learn more about winterberry and why this winter plant is a great choice for Southern gardens.
The Grumpy Gardener calls this plant «Winter’s prettiest holly,» and we have to agree. Winterberry is a deciduous shrub that’s native to the Eastern United States. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, «Unlike most hollies, this one thrives in boggy soils, but it will succeed in any moist, acid, organic soil.» They grow from 6 to 10 feet tall and wide and have dark green foliage that turns yellow in autumn. In winter, their branches are absent of green foliage and are covered in small, round, bright red berries. The female plants bear these berries, which ripen in fall and can last all winter long. Keep in mind the leaves and berries are toxic to pets and people.
Popular Winterberry Selections
Selections to plant in the South include «Afterglow,» which has orange-red berries; «Cacapon,» which has glossy leaves; «Red Sprite,» which has the largest berries of all of the dwarf winterberry selections; «Winter Gold,» which has pink or golden berries; and «Winter Red,» which is a popular selection for its bright red berries, which are profusely borne and last through February.
Winterberry is a low-maintenance plant in USDA Zones 6 to 9. With the right growing conditions, you’ll have bright holly berries all season long. Plant in full sun or partial shade. It grows well in moist, acid, organic soils and thrives in boggy soils, which means this plant is ideal in landscapes with poor drainage. Plant one male plant to six female plants for best berry production. Though deer resistant, the abundant berries attract birds. Prune in early spring before new growth appears.
Other Deciduous Plants for Winter
According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, «Most Southerners prefer evergreens for their long season of color. Still, deciduous plants offer a special beauty, especially in gardens in the Upper South, where winters can be long. Peeling bark, contorted limbs, and winter fruit…» In this vein, other deciduous plants that provide winter interest for Southern gardens include: American beech, birch, black walnut, Chinese elm, coral bark Japanese maple, corkscrew willow, crepe myrtle, hearts-a-bustin», Loropetalum, oakleaf hydrangea, persimmon, saucer magnolia, and winged euonymus.
For more plants and flowers for winter and the holiday season, check out our all-star lineup of seasonal favorites.
What’s your favorite winter plant? In the dreary depths of the coldest season, what plants do you count on for bright garden color and abundant visual interest?