Win­ter ber­ries

Brighten a cold land­scape with trees and shrubs that pro­duce colour­ful ber­ries in win­ter.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Winter Garden -

The most fa­mous of the win­ter ber­ries is holly, but other plants pro­duce bright ber­ries over the cooler months, like the or­ange-berried sea buck­thorn. Small fruits add in­ter­est to the gar­den, and pro­vide vital food for wildlife.

BEAUTYBERRY

Cal­li­carpa bo­d­inieri 'Pro­fu­sion' is an or­na­men­tal shrub that's grown for its bril­liant pur­ple fruit. The ber­ries (dru­pes) brighten as tem­per­a­tures drop, tak­ing on an al­most psy­che­delic sheen. They first ap­pear in au­tumn, but they're at their showiest in early win­ter when the leaves have fallen. The ber­ries are ex­cel­lent for pick­ing, last­ing over a month in the vase be­fore start­ing to pucker.

To keep them neat, plants are best pruned af­ter fruit­ing, al­though they can be kept tidy by fre­quently har­vest­ing the ber­ries. Prun­ing also stim­u­lates bushy growth; left un­pruned, the stems can be­come spindly.

Beautyberry tol­er­ates sun or part shade but grows best in full sun in well-drained soil. It likes an acidic soil; if yours is too al­ka­line the leaves will be­gin to yel­low. Plant more than one plant for bet­ter fruit set.

SNOWBERRY

It's not the flow­ers that give Sym­phori­car­pos al­bus its or­na­men­tal edge but its snow white ber­ries, which ap­pear on slen­der, wiry stems in au­tumn and win­ter. When the plant's leaves drop in late au­tumn, the fleshy round ber­ries stand out even more. Luck­ily, birds do not find these white ber­ries at­trac­tive so leave them alone. Florists, how­ever, love them for win­ter bridal bou­quets, but be aware that the ber­ries are poi­sonous when eaten, so keep them out of reach of young chil­dren.

Snow­ber­ries are rel­a­tively slow-grow­ing, but these de­cid­u­ous shrubs even­tu­ally reach a height of 2m. They are best planted in an open sunny po­si­tion in low-fer­til­ity soil (they're na­tive to dry, rocky slopes) to max­imise fruit­ing. They're ex­tremely hardy plants, cop­ing well with heavy frosts.

Small clus­ters of pink and white bell-shaped flow­ers are pro­duced in spring, which can also be picked for the vase. But whereas stems of ber­ries last more than a week in water, the flow­ers last only 4-7 days. Make sure you change the water reg­u­larly; dirty water will quickly shorten the life of the ber­ries.

RED ALERT

Holly may be the quin­tes­sen­tial red­ber­ried beauty, but many other shrubs pro­duce colour­ful win­ter fruit too.

Take skim­mias. These ev­er­green shrubs are valu­able for their multi-sea­son dis­plays, with fra­grant white or yel­low flow­ers in spring and sum­mer, fol­lowed by bright red ber­ries in win­ter. Most skim­mias are ei­ther male or fe­male, so you need to grow both to en­sure the fe­males pro­duce ber­ries. A few are self-fer­tile but they will still flower bet­ter when there is more than one plant in your gar­den. Plants grow best in par­tial shade in moist but free-drain­ing soil.

The leaves of nan­d­ina of­ten take on a red­dish hue in win­ter which com­ple­ment their cheer­ful red ber­ries. The nan­d­ina ber­ries hang on for much of the year. It is worth grow­ing a plant if you want ber­ries for pick­ing.

Sch­ef­flera ar­bori­cola is an ex­otic re­la­tion to our na­tive seven-fin­ger ( Sch­ef­flera dig­i­tata) and makes a small tree with spec­tac­u­lar au­tumn ber­ries (if you al­low it to head up­ward) that last well into win­ter.

And yes, hollies ( Ilex spp.) pro­duce spec­tac­u­lar red ber­ries in win­ter, though some forms have yel­low or black ber­ries. 'Blue An­gel' is self-fer­tile va­ri­ety, pro­duc­ing masses of red ber­ries that birds love. Plant it in sun or par­tial shade.

BERRY WREATH

Cel­e­brate the sea­son by mak­ing a beau­ti­ful berry wreath and sus­pend it from a door or out­door trel­lis. Snow­ber­ries, with their pink tinge, make a ro­man­tic dec­o­ra­tion for wed­dings and birth­day cel­e­bra­tions. Cut berry-laden stems and se­cure them to your wreath base with florist wire. Make a base by twist­ing flex­i­ble stems to form a wreath, or wrap an ex­ist­ing wreath with strips of burlap and at­tach a burlap tie.

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