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Berrific Plants: Shrubs with Berries

Shrubs that bear brightly colored fruit during the fall and winter months are welcomed additions to our gardens.  They add splashes of color throughout the landscape and provide a food source for birds when other edibles can be hard to find.  Plants such as pyracantha, beautyberry, nandina, holly, and dogwood can help create interest in the garden during the late seasons.

Pyracantha (Pyracantha sp.), also know as firethorn, is a shrub that can be utilized in many different ways in the landscape.  They perform beautifully as an espalier, in groupings, or standing alone in their natural form.  Many different cultivars are available and can vary in size, shape, and color.  Pyracantha blooms in the spring with clusters of white flowers.  Bees and other flying insects do their jobs pollinating the flowers and the fruit begins to develop in the late spring and progresses to ripening in the fall.  The berries are bunched together in large clusters on the plant providing a colorful show. Orange and red are the most popular and showy colors of berries.  Full sun to part shade and well drained soils provide the best environment for growth and optimal flower production for pyracantha.  An important thing to remember is that pyracantha does have thorns, so be careful when pruning and avoid planting in high traffic areas.

If orange or red berries are not you cup of tea, try beautyberry for purple fruit (Callicarpa sp.).  Beautyberry is a deciduous (loses its leaves) shrub that can grow from four to eight feet depending on which species or cultivar is planted.  The American and Asian beautyberries are the two most popular available species.  American beautyberry has large clusters of purple berries encircling the arching stems of the shrub.  The Asian counterpart has twin clusters directly adjacent to one another on the stems.  Beautyberries make a stunning impression when planted in groupings of three or five plants.  There are cultivars available that produce white berries but in my personal opinion the purple berries are much more attractive.

Nandina (Nandina domestica) is an evergreen shrub that has been used in gardens for many years.  Numerous cultivars are available differentiated by different forms, colors, and textures.  Nandina is primarily known for the transition from lush green foliage in the spring and summer to vibrant crimson in the fall and winter.  Many of the larger cultivars produce large clusters of flowers which transform into berries in the fall.  These large grape like clusters of red berries are not hidden under the foliage of the plant and are quite showy throughout the winter season.  The smaller versions of nandina like ‘Firepower’ and ‘Harbour Dwarf’ fruit very little if at all, so make sure the plant that you buy is a larger growing form.

One of the most popular shrubs that we carry at Fairviewis the holly (Ilex sp.).  We carry Japanese holly, Chinese holly, deciduous holly, hybrids, big ones, small ones………….you name it.  From the fruit standpoint, Chinese holly and the deciduous hollies are the way to go.  The evergreen forms that many people use to decorate with around the holidays are usually versions of Chinese holly or one of the hybrids like ‘Nellie Stevens’.  Most of the Chinese holly cultivars are best suited for use as hedge or screening plants due to their size, evergreen nature, and density.  The deciduous hollies are obviously different from the others due to the fact that they lose their leaves in the fall.  This is when they put on their show.  Without the foliage, winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) display their striking red berries held on the naked stems of the plant.  Similar to the beautyberries, winterberry hollies are breathtaking when planted in groupings of multiple plants.  It is important to note that hollies do require pollinators to produce fruit.  This is not as important with the Chinese hollies due to their popularity.  Chances are that if you do not have a Chinese holly in your landscape, one of your neighbors will.  With winterberry hollies like ‘Sparkleberry’, ‘Winter Red’, or ‘Red Sprite’, male pollinators are recommended to plant in the vicinity of the female plants to pollinate the flowers in the spring season.  Male cultivars include ‘Apollo’, ‘Jim Dandy’, and ‘Southern Gentleman’.

Shrubs are not the only plants that can add color to the garden with berries.  One of our favorite small trees, the dogwood, adds ornamental interest to the landscape in the fall and winter seasons.  The native dogwood (Cornus florida) is primarily revered for its gorgeous floral display in April.  The show does not end there.  Clusters of bright red fruit remain on the tree through the fall season, or until the birds find them.  The Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) also produces fruit in the fall.  Unlike the smaller berries of the native dogwood, kousa fruit is almost the size of a grape.  The fruit actually resembles a strawberry.  It is a rather interesting addition to the fall garden.  Dogwood are not just for flowers, the fruit is quite attractive.

The fall garden does not have to consist of plants only providing textural of foliar interest.  Planting some of these shrubs will brighten any garden as the days get a cooler.  Not only are you planting these for your enjoyment, you are helping out our feathered friends as well.  They will thank you for it!

Happy Planting!

Brad Rollins