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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Trees and Shrubs > Winterberry

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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Beth Berlin and Kathy Zuzek

Plant description

Mature height: 3 to 15'
Mature width: 3 to 15'
Growth rate: Slow
Plant form: Oval, rounded
Deciduous or evergreen: Deciduous
Native range: Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas
Native to Minnesota: Yes
Invasive in Minnesota: No

Culture

Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil texture: Sand, loam, clay
Soil pH: 4.5 - 6.5
Soil moisture: moist to wet and well-drained to poorly-drained soils
Hardiness zone: 3 to 9
Pests and stresses: None serious. Foliage can be bothered by leaf spots and powdery mildew late in the season. Visit What's wrong with my plant? – Winterberry for a list of the most common winterberry pests in Minnesota.
Other: Japanese beetle tolerant, sensitive to salt, chlorosis on high pH soils

Minnesota map showing native range of Arrowwood viburunm

The native range of winterberry in Minnesota, Minnesota DNR

Winterberry in the landscape

Winterberry is a native lightly-suckering shrub grown for its colorful and abundant fruit. It can be used as a border, mass, screen, wildlife, or specimen plant in the landscape. In its native habitat, winterberry grows in acidic soils in forested wetlands or along edges of ponds, lakes and marshes. It can also be found growing in acidic sandy soils with high water tables. This makes winterberry particularly useful in landscapes with wet, poorly drained, or compacted soils. Chlorosis or yellowing of leaves may occur when it is planted in alkaline soils.

In mid-June and early July, clusters of small, white, inconspicuous flowers appear in leaf axils where dark green 2-3" leaves attach to stems. Winterberry is a dioecious species with female flowers and male flowers occurring on separate plants. Fruit will only be produced when both a male and female plant are planted near each other (a distance of up to 40-50' is often recommended). One male plant produces enough pollen to pollinate many female plants. Two commonly available male cultivars are 'Jim Dandy' and 'Southern Gentleman'. 'Jim Dandy' blooms earlier and will pollinate 'Afterglow', 'Aurantiaca', Berry Heavy®, Berry Nice®, 'Cacapon', First Editions® Wildfire™, 'Goldfinch', and 'Red Sparkler'. 'Southern Gentleman' is a later-blooming male and is used as the pollinator of 'Sparkleberry' and Winter Red®.

Winterberry provides seasonal interest in autumn and early winter when female plants are covered in red, orange, or yellow fruit clustered tightly around stems. These fruit are a very attractive food for many songbird species and small mammals and fruit may disappear quickly in early winter due to wildlife feeding.

USA map showing native range of Arrowwood viburunm

The native range of winterberry in North America, USDA, NRCS Plants Database

bush with small, circular red berries

Kathy Zuzek, UMN Extension

Shrub form of 'Cacapon' winterberry

leaves with tiny green flowers

Kathy Zuzek, UMN Extension

Inconspicuous spring flowers on 'Southern Gentleman' male winterberry

close up of red berries and foliage

Kathy Zuzek, UMN Extension

Foliage and fruit of 'Red Sprite' winterberry

bright red berries on branches covered with white snow

Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension

Fruit of 'Afterglow' winterberry persisting into winter

Some cultivars grown in Minnesota:

  Cultivar traits:
Cultivar Orange fruit Red fruit Gold/Yellow fruit Compact habit Male Pollinator
Afterglow X     X  
Aurantiaca X      
Berry Heavy®   X      
Berry Nice®   X      
Cacapon   X      
First Editions® Wildfire™   X      
Goldfinch     X    
Jim Dandy         X
Red Sprite   X   X  
Southern Gentleman         X
Sparkleberry   X      
Winter Red®   X      
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