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Gardening with Wanda

A common question asked of the Hall County Extension office, brought to you by Wanda Cannon

POSTED: December 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

What's my favorite plant for the holidays?

If I had to pick a native southeastern plant for the month of December, winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) would be my favorite. The warmth of its bright red berries seems to usher in the season's holiday cheer. Other varieties include jolly red, red sprite, sparkleberry and winter red.

Since our typical landscaping activity is halted upon Old Man Winter's arrival, it becomes a time when we look around us for winter landscaping ideas that make our landscapes less dreary. Winterberry holly is an excellent attention grabber for your yard, and as each December comes along, the gardener will happily anticipate its arrival.

One of the most appealing features of the winterberry holly is its ability to attract songbirds to your property - the berries serve as an emergency food source to the birds. The fruit also attracts bluebirds and game birds.

Winterberry holly is native to the eastern half of the United States. It prefers acidic soils and can be grown in partial shade or full sun, but it prefers a slightly moist location. They can grow anywhere from 3 feet to 15 feet tall and their width varies.

Although it can be found in the wild, a good reason for buying from a nursery is that winterberry is dioecious, which means you need to buy at least one male plant and surround it with the females that bear the beautiful berries. A nursery would have the plants labeled as such. Unlike most of our hollies, this holly sheds its leaves, which makes it easier to see the red berry fruit.

If bird-watching is not your passion, but holiday arts and crafts are more up your alley, cut the winterberry stems early, before the songbirds get any ideas. The berry-laden branches of the shrub are prized by craft enthusiasts for use in floral arrangements, wreathes, kissing balls and winter window boxes.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293


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