Hardy Shrubs With Showy Berries


Trying to brighten up the autumn and winter garden? Consider adding fruit-producing shrubs to your plant palette. Flowering shrubs that develop colourful fall and winter berries not only add beauty to the landscape but in addition invite pollinators and birds into the garden at different times of 12 months. The berry-covered stems also look lovely in cut-flower arrangements. The next selections include native and nonnative species that get up to each the cold winter weather and the warmth of summer within the Southern Plains.

This native, deciduous holly takes center stage with vibrant red berries

Commonly called possumhaw (Ilex decidua spp. and cvs., Zones, 5–9), this native holly makes a striking specimen. Plants grow as large shrubs or small trees 7 to fifteen feet tall with rounded crowns spreading as much as 12 feet and are easily pruned into multitrunked trees. The graceful grayish bark makes a pleasant counterpoint to the intense red berries that remain throughout most of winter. My plants are inclined to be denuded of fruit in late winter to very early spring, when cedar waxwings migrate through the realm on their way north.

Although the small white flowers aren’t particularly showy in spring, they do provide nectar to butterflies and other pollinators. Like other hollies (Ilex spp. and cvs., Zones 3–11), possumhaw is dioecious, with separate female and male plants. Only female plants produce berries, making them the popular alternative within the landscape. While a male pollinator is essential to provide fruits, “wild” plants are sometimes sufficient for pollination. Should you find that your plant just isn’t fruiting, add a male selection to the garden. Plants tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, including clay soil and poor drainage. Plant possumhaw in full sun to partial shade for best results.

Yukon Belle pyracantha with orange berries

Yukon Belle® pyracantha delivers showy white flowers and shiny orange berries

Yukon Belle® pyracantha (Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Monon’, Zones 5–8) is a hardy shrub for difficult growing conditions, tolerating drought and dry soil, each sandy or clay. Evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage provides a glossy, dark green backdrop to showy white flowers in spring after which shiny orange berries that ripen in fall and persist into winter. A standard name for pyracantha is firethorn, but don’t let the thorns frighten you from this low-maintenance shrub, which provides ideal nesting habitat for songbirds. This selection is immune to fire blight and is simple to grow in full sun. Plants grow quickly to succeed in 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to eight feet wide. Add them to mixed borders, or plant them as a hedge.

close up of Proud Berry coralberry pink berries

Proud Berry® coralberry is a good looking alternative that supports pollinators and birds

The bubblegum pink berries of this native hybrid are an unexpected addition to the autumn and winter garden. Proud Berry® coralberry (Symphoricarpos ‘Sofie’, Zones 3–7) grows as an upright, open branching shrub reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. This hybrid produces larger, more abundant berries than the native species, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Zones 2–7), which is found throughout the region.

Plant coralberry in mixed borders, wildlife plantings, or along the perimeters of woodland gardens in full sun to partial shade. Blue-green foliage provides summer interest. Creamy white bell-shaped flowers open early within the season and attract a diversity of pollinators. Fruits begin to mature in mid to late August and persist into the winter months. Songbirds, especially finches, feed on the fruits. For optimal fruiting, prune your entire plant back to 12 inches just as the brand new growth begins to look in early spring.

Autumn Jazz arrowwood viburnum with blue berries

Viburnums are kings of the garden, with spring blooms, fall color, and attractive berries

Several species of viburnum (Viburnum spp. and cvs., Zones 4–8) are tough enough to grow within the Southern Plains. While many are listed for growth in full sun, I at all times plant viburnums in a location shaded from hot afternoon sun. Along with producing plentiful berries, viburnum has blooms which might be a spring highlight and never fail to draw pollinators to the garden. Many species also display yellow, orange, or red fall foliage. Viburnums are a favourite of songbirds, which suggests you never know the way long the berries are going to last into winter.

Spring Bouquet® laurustinus viburnum (Viburnum tinus ‘Compactum’, Zones 7–11) is a rugged, heat-tolerant selection for more southerly regions that tends to carry its blue-black berries well into winter. This evergreen shrub grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 4 to six feet wide and performs well in a fan of full shade, though it tolerates more direct sun than other varieties. The deciduous native Autumn Jazz® arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum ‘Ralph Senior’, Zones 3–8) is one other crowd-pleaser, growing in a vase shape and maturing to eight to 10 feet tall with a rather larger spread. This selection attracts butterflies with its white blooms in spring and birds (corresponding to eastern bluebird, northern flicker, gray catbird, and American robin) with its blue-black berries in fall.

close up of Little Goblin Red winterberry holly

Winterberry hollies provide a compact option for containers and smaller spaces

One other holly? Yes, please! Few plants are as magical within the winter garden as hollies. While not every gardener has room for possumhaw, there’s a pint-size holly that will be grown within the smallest of gardens—even containers. Little Goblin® Red winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘NCIVI’, Zones 3–9) matures at just 3 to 4 feet tall and wide but produces greenish white flowers that yield a great deal of shiny red berries, which begin to mature in early fall and persist through your entire winter (hence the common name). If orange is more your color, Little Goblin® Orange (Ilex verticillata ‘NCIV2’, Zones 3–9) is just as prolific.

Remember, hollies have separate female and male plants. For fruit production, you’ll need to plant Little Goblin® Guy winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘NCIV3’, Zones 3–9) as a pollinator. One male plant can pollinate as much as five female plants of the red and/or orange varieties. Plant male plants inside 50 feet of females for one of the best fruit set. Winterberry holly performs well in a wide range of soil types and tolerates wet soil, making it a super addition to rain gardens and swales. It makes a vibrant display planted en masse in full to partial sun.


—Kim Toscano is a horticulturalist based in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She previously hosted Oklahoma Gardening, a weekly PBS television program produced by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

Photos: Kim Toscano

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