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Colorful winter shrubs with red berries

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As winter goes on, the monochromatic landscape can get dull. One way to extend fall color through this long, snowy season is to plant shrubs with red berries.

There are many native shrubs that sport beautiful, red berries. One of my favorite shrubs is “Red Sprite” winterberry. Some winterberries can grow up to 12 feet high and wide, while this cultivar is shorter, growing three feet high and wide. This adaptable shrub likes full sun to part shade and medium to wet soils. While its flowers and autumn color are not exciting, the berries that develop in autumn are a beautiful fire engine red.

Winterberry with its beautiful red berries adds color to the winter landscape. Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue

With this shrub, the trick to produce berries is to plant a male and female cultivar in close proximity for cross pollination. “Jim Dandy” is a common male cultivar that grows three to six feet tall and four to eight feet wide. The rule of thumb is that one male winterberry will pollinate approximately six to 10 female winterberries.

Looking for something low-growing with red berries? “Gro-Low” sumac is a fantastic shrub with fuzzy, jewel-like clusters of red berries. It has incredible fall foliage that can range from orange to red to burgundy. Although it only grows to a height of 1.5 to two feet tall, each plant will grow six to eight feet wide, creating a showy carpet that changes with the seasons. This shrub prefers full sun to part shade and dry to medium soil moisture.

American cranberry bush offers lovely white flowers in the spring and clusters of red drupes (fleshy fruit containing one seed) in autumn. These berries are bitter, yet edible, and can be made into jams and jellies. When planted in full sun to part shade, this shrub will grow eight to 12 feet tall and wide. Birds and butterflies find it particularly attractive.

Another beautiful native shrub with red berries to add to your list is red chokeberry. Although this shrub will tolerate partial shade, for the most fruit, plant in a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily. It’s a popular landscape plant for its white, apple-like blossoms in the spring and showy red foliage in autumn. It also has great winter appeal for its glossy clusters of red berries that persist through the cold weather if the birds don’t get to them first.

Something to consider, however, is its growth habit. This shrub tends to naturalize and may be six to eight feet tall and three to four feet wide when fully mature. Make sure to plant it in a place where you don’t mind it spreading. Another option to control this habit is to cut back any suckers annually.

Planting shrubs with red berries can create more dynamic winter landscapes with the colors and textures they offer against the gray and white background of snow. They also attract birds, which is another way to bring in more color and excitement into the garden.

What new shrubs will you try this year?

by Bonnie Kirn Donahue, Extension Master Gardener, UVM

For a winterberry shrub to produce red berries, a male and female cultivar must be planted in close proximity for cross pollination. Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue

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