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Winterberry

'Cacapon' winterberry shrub with red berries
'Cacapon' winterberry shrub

(Ilex verticillata) is a native Minnesota shrub grown for its colorful and abundant fruit.

It can be used as a property border or to screen views. Plant several shrubs in a mass for wildlife food and habitat, or as a group of plants in the landscape.

Winterberry provides seasonal interest in autumn and early winter when female plants are covered in red, orange or yellow fruit.

Winterberry grows wild in acidic soils in forested wetlands or along edges of ponds, lakes and marshes.

Though winterberry fruit is a food source for some wildlife, it can be poisonous to pets and people.

Red fruit of 'Afterglow' winterberry on branches covered with snow in winter
Fruit of 'Afterglow' winterberry lasts into winter

Description

  • Deciduous shrub

  • Height: 3 to 15 feet

  • Width: 3 to 15 feet

  • Oval or rounded form

  • Dark green 2- to 3-inch leaves

  • Clusters of small, white flowers in early to mid-summer

  • Red, orange, or yellow fruit in fall and winter

  • Grows slowly and may spread by suckering

Growing winterberry

  • Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

  • Full sun to part shade

  • Best soil properties for winterberry:

    • Soil pH 4.5 to 6.5 (acidic). Have your soil tested by the U of M Soil Testing Lab

    • Adaptable to many soil types - sandy, loam, or clay

    • Moist to wet soils

    • Tolerates poorly-drained and compacted soils

Common problems

  • Tolerates Japanese beetles

  • Sensitive to de-icing salts

  • Leaves may turn yellow when planted in soil pH is higher than 6.5

  • Leaf spots and powdery mildew late in the season; these are only cosmetic and non-fatal

Visit What's wrong with my plant? – Winterberry for a list of the most common winterberry pests in Minnesota.

Cultivated varieties of winterberry for Minnesota

Winterberry is a dioecious species, meaning female flowers and male flowers grow on separate plants. To get berries on a female plant, a male plant must be near.  

One male plant will pollinate about 20 female plants to produce fruit when planted within 40 feet of each other. Beyond 40 feet, one male will pollinate about four to five female plants.

Green leaves and red fruit of 'Red Sprite' winterberry
Foliage and fruit of 'Red Sprite' winterberry

Female cultivars

  • ‘Afterglow’ - 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide, orange fruit, compact habit

  • ‘Aurantiaca’ - 5 feet tall by 5 feet wide, orange fruit

  • Berry Heavy® - 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide, red fruit

  • Berry Nice® - 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide, red fruit

  • ‘Cacapon’ - 5 feet tall by 5 feet wide, red fruit

  • First Editions® Wildfire™ - 7 feet tall by 8 feet wide, red fruit

  • ‘Goldfinch’ - 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide, golden yellow fruit

  • ‘Red Sprite’- 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide, red fruit, compact habit

  • ‘Sparkleberry’ - 12 feet tall by 12 feet wide, red fruit

  • Winter Red® - 9 feet tall by 8 feet wide, red fruit

Inconspicuous white flowers on branch of 'Southern Gentleman' male winterberry in spring
Inconspicuous spring flowers on 'Southern Gentleman' male winterberry

Male cultivars

  • ‘Jim Dandy’- 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide

    • Plant with 'Afterglow', 'Aurantiaca', Berry Heavy®, Berry Nice®, 'Cacapon', First Editions® Wildfire™, 'Goldfinch', and 'Red Sparkler'

  • ‘Southern Gentleman’ - 9 feet tall by 8 feet wide

    • Plant with 'Sparkleberry' and Winter Red®

  • ‘Late male’ - 9 feet tall by 8 feet wide

    • Plant with Winter Red®

Beth Berlin, former Extension educator; Kathy Zuzek, former Extension educator; and Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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