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Phyllis Both color for BNR

Phyllis Both

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and face.” — J.K Rowling (Harry Potter)

After a hard frost, your yard probably looks somewhat sad but planting the right shrubs can keep it bright and beautiful through November or even through winter.

One of the best and most beautiful shrubs for Christmas and winter color is the American holly. I never see this shrub grown in Sauk County but I have had mine for years, so I know it is hardy. The leaves are a very dark green. It will flower in spring but is not showy. Female flowers are single and male flowers are clusters of small, white florets. In the fall, the red berries are vibrant. They last though the winter if the cedar waxwings don’t spot them.

If you decide to plant this shrub, you need to plant a male and a female. I have one male shrub and two female shrubs for pollination. This shrub likes acidic soil so it does well in soil that can grow blueberries. American holly is also called winterberry holly. The plant can grow 6-10 feet, but there are also compact forms that are much smaller such as Red Sprite, Jim Dandy and Southern Gentleman. These are all male pollinators for this species.

Winterberry holly do more than survive our climate; they flourish with astounding beauty. The berries are vibrant against the dark green leaves. After the leaves fall, the shrub is still beautiful. A few branches look great for holiday decorations and when crafted into wreaths. This shrub is a must for bird lovers. Cardinals, jays, and even robins enjoy a quick snack, causing this shrub to be a favorite of wildlife enthusiasts. These shrubs can also be planted as a privacy screen to form a living wall.

For those who love native plants and shrubs, it is nice to know this is a Minnesota native. It is not invasive, does not have serious pests except maybe webworms in spring and powdery mildew sometimes in late summer. The one problem that is easy to solve is that it really needs acidic soil. Add a little garden sulphur when planting and then every three years to solve that problem.

If you plan on purchasing a winterberry holly, there are several other colors such as yellow/white berries or orange berries. Make sure you choose the color you will be happiest with.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.