Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry Holly
Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

This spectacular shrub is a must in the winter garden. Winterberry is a native deciduous holly. This holly does not have the common prickly leaves, but are oval shaped and soft. After its leaves fall, this shrub becomes covered in these amazing red berries that makes it a show stopper. Only the female plants form these berries, and you must have a male plant in order for the female plant to produce them.

It’s therefore a good idea to purchase these plants in the fall or early winter, when you can see if it has fruit or not. You should aim to have one male for every 3-5 female shrubs, and have the male at most 50 feet away. You may be able to get away with just having a female plant if you know a neighbor has a male plant.

winterberry holly

The winterberry holly grows in zones 3-9. We are a zone 7 here in Kentucky. There are several cultivated varieties of the Holly and the straight native species. The native species will tend to be larger, at 6-9′ tall and wide at maturity. It is a slower growing shrub at around a foot per year, depending on where it’s planted. Some of the cultivars may be half the size of the native species. Plant this shrub to where it will get at least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day. It is best planted in soils that stay moist and it can tolerate poor draining soils. It is not a drought tolerant plant, so it should be watered in times of little rainfall in the summers. It is tolerant of both acidic and clay soils.

It’s berries provide fruit for a lot of species of birds. The berries however, aren’t the favorite of the birds, so they will likely leave them until later in the winter after other plant’s berries are eaten. This is actually great because we get to enjoy this bright red shrub longer and it still provides food. This shrub also hosts the Henrys Elfin Butterfly and its inconspicuous spring flowers attract butterflies for nectar. The berries also make wonderful holiday cuttings for your winter decorating.

winterberry holly

If you haven’t heard of winterberry holly, it’s worthy to check out to see if you have a place to plant one in your own yard. It is a noticeable plant in the wintertime when nothing else stands out in color like this.

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