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Posts Tagged ‘holly berries’

Holly berries covered with a light hoar frost

It’s holiday decorating time! Such a fun time of the year to get the house and porches all spruced up for the season! Holly, mistletoe, and …

Wait! Where are my holly berries? This is a question we often get in the fall and early winter. Many people plant holly trees and bushes so that they can cut berry laden boughs for beautiful holiday arrangements both indoors and out. But sometimes they are disappointed when the colorful berries fail to appear.

We are having a problem with having any berries on our holly shrub. What are we missing?”

Ilex opaca 'Merry Christmas' is aptly named with its reliable profusion of red berries in fall and winter.

Ilex opaca ‘Merry Christmas’

The trouble is, hollies are dioecious plants, meaning the male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The male holly produces pollen bearing staminate flowers and the female plant produces pistillate flowers which, if pollinated, will normally develop berries.

If you only have a female holly and there is no male in the area, you will never* get berries because there is no pollen to pollinate the female flowers. If you only have a male holly, you won’t get berries either – for obvious reasons. This is true of both the evergreen hollies and the deciduous hollies.

*There are a few hollies (parthenocarpic species) that can produce berries without pollination but this is not the norm. Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’ is one holly that does not require pollination for fruit set.

If your hollies aren’t producing berries, the first thing to do is to check to make sure that you have both a male and female holly plant. It is best if these hollies are of the same species so that they will flower at the same time. This helps ensure good pollination which should result in a reliable berry crop. If you have NEVER had berries on your hollies, this could be the reason.

Male flowers of Ilex verticillata showing bright yellow pollen

Male flowers of Ilex verticillata showing bright yellow pollen.

The plant label should identify whether the plant is a male or female. Male hollies often (but not always) have male-type names like ‘Southern Gentlemen’, ‘Jim Dandy’, ‘Jersey Knight’, ‘China Boy’ …

If you don’t have a label, examining the flowers is a good way to determine whether a holly is male or female. The small, inconspicuous holly flowers appear in the spring.

  • The flowers of male hollies have four (or more) stamens topped with bright yellow pollen. The male flowers are normally borne in clusters (cymes).
  • Female flowers of Ilex 'Blue Princess'.

    Female flowers of Ilex ‘Blue Princess’.

    Female hollies usually produce solitary flowers. These flowers have a green “berry-like” structure in the center. The stigma which receives the pollen is found at the top of this structure. Bees and other insect pollinators carry pollen from the male flowers to the stigma. If the flower is pollinated, a full-sized green berry quickly develops – if not, the flower dies and falls off without producing a berry.

One male holly can serve as a pollinator for multiple female plants. The male should be planted within a few hundred yards of the females. Bees are the main pollinators and will carry the pollen to the female flowers.

What if you have had holly berries in the past but not this year?

Since holly berries were produced in previous seasons, this would indicate that there are both male and female plants present in your landscape. The lack of berry production in one season could be the result of some environmental or weather related issue that affected the pollination of the flowers in the spring.

  • Late frosts or freezes can damage or kill the flowers and result in loss of the berry crop for that season.
  • Misty, rainy, or cold weather in the spring at the time of flowering can inhibit or limit pollination because bees are not as active in these conditions. If weather like this persists, it can affect pollination and result in a reduced berry crop.
  • Summer drought can cause berries to shrivel and drop off.
Bright red berries of Ilex verticillata in early fall before the leaves drop.

Bright red berries of Ilex verticillata in early fall before the leaves drop.

Healthy hollies will reward you with a beautiful crop of berries as long as the conditions above are met. Be sure to feed them with a quality organic fertilizer like Espoma Holly-tone in the spring and fall. Water them deeply during dry periods in the summer and even in winter if the ground isn’t frozen and it has been dry.

Until next time –

      Happy Gardening!

 

Ilex verticillata in the snow.  Beautiful!

Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ in the snow. Beautiful!

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Winterberry Holly

I love trees and shrubs that produce berries – especially the ones that hold their berries into the winter. Berries brighten the landscape and provide a splash of color at an otherwise drab time of the year.

The bright red berries of Ilex verticillata brighten the winter landscape and provide a nutritious snack for the birds.

The bright red berries of Ilex verticillata brighten the winter landscape and provide a nutritious snack for the birds.

But these berries offer more than beauty in the landscape. They supply a natural source of food for birds and other wildlife through much of the winter and many also provide them with some great winter “hiding places”.

One of the secrets to creating a wildlife and bird-friendly landscape is to plant a diversity of trees and shrubs that will provide food and shelter for a wide variety of furred and feathered critters. There are loads of beautiful berry producers that feed the critters and also make wonderful landscape plants. I’ve written quite a lot about Beautyberry (Callicarpa) and Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) but there are many others out there for the planting!

These colorful yellow crabapples brighten one the fall gardens at Viette's.

These colorful yellow crabapples are a great food source for birds.

One of the best trees to plant for wildlife is the crabapple. The fruit lasts well into the winter and provides an excellent source of food for many different wild birds including waxwings, bluebirds, cardinals, grosbeaks, wrens, robins, and mockingbirds. According to Andre, the small fruited varieties (fruit less than 3/4″) are preferred by birds. The squirrels, chipmunks, and deer enjoy the larger crabapples especially after they fall from the tree.

The fruit of Cornus kousa.

The fruit of Cornus kousa.

Dogwoods, both the native (Cornus florida) and the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), are beautiful in the landscape especially in the spring and they produce wonderful berries/fruit that the birds love. The fruit of the Kousa dogwood is fleshy; more like a cherry than a berry and the birds just devour these!

Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is a very hardy deciduous tree that provides food for birds and wildlife. The fruit ripens in the late summer and persists into winter. Wild turkeys, woodpeckers, waxwings and even little mice find the fruit of hackberry irresistible!

Colorful blue juniper berries are a treat for cedar waxwings!

Colorful blue juniper berries are a treat for cedar waxwings!

There are many evergreens that provide food for birds through the winter. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a beautiful native cedar that produces attractive blue berries that are a favorite of Cedar Waxwings and many other birds.

The red berries of the American Holly (Ilex opaca) mature in October and persist on the tree well into winter – at least until the birds eat them all! These evergreen hollies are a wonderful addition to the garden and provide great nesting sites for many species of birds including mourning doves and robins.

Ilex opaca 'Merry Christmas' is aptly named with its reliable profusion of red berries in fall and winter.

Ilex opaca ‘Merry Christmas’ is aptly named with its reliable profusion of red berries in fall and winter.

Berry laden holly boughs can also be cut in December for use in holiday arrangements – an added bonus!

Many ornamental species of Sumac (Rhus) and Viburnum produce berries that ripen in late summer or early fall and remain on the shrubs into the winter. These shrubs attract a variety of different birds to the garden including flickers, woodpeckers, cardinals, robins, bluebirds, sparrows, and grosbeaks.

There are several beautiful cultivars of Scarlet Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) that have spectacular berries in shades of red, orange, and yellow. These shrubs can be used as a specimen in the garden, as an informal hedge, or espaliered on a wall or trellis. In addition to feeding on the berries, many birds also like to nest in these shrubs because the branches are covered with sharp thorns which provide protection from predators.

A bull moose enjoys a snack of mountainash berries in the middle of Anchorage, Alaska. Special thanks to Bill McDonald for the photo.

A bull moose enjoys a snack of mountainash berries in the middle of Anchorage, Alaska. Special thanks to Bill McDonald for the photo.

Mountainash (Sorbus spp.) produces spectacular clusters of brilliant red or orange fruit that is a favorite of many different birds and even larger critters. My brother-in-law sent me some photos of a large bull moose noshing on the berries of Mountainash right outside his office in Anchorage, Alaska! “He doesn’t come everyday,” Bill said, “but when the snow gets thick and it is harder to forage in the woods, he comes into town for a snack.”

How cool is that to see outside your office window – and in the middle of the city. Never a dull moment!

Rose hips from a wild rose provide winter food for many critters.

Rose hips from a wild rose will provide winter food for many critters.

Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa) and many varieties of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) also produce loads of rose hips and berries to feed the birds and other wildlife during the winter.

Consider adding some of these wonderful trees and shrubs to your gardens next spring. You will not only be rewarded with a beautiful and colorful landscape but your wildlife friends will love you forever!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

P.S. – Don’t forget to provide your feathered friends with a source of fresh, unfrozen water over the winter!

A flock of bluebirds enjoys a drink at the water trough!

A flock of bluebirds enjoys a drink at the water trough!

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