Berries for Year-Round ColorFor year-round interest, look to trees and shrubs with showy fruit
A garden really can have something lovely to look at in every season. Just remember the four F’s—flowers, foliage, form and fruit. The last one, fruit, is often the most overlooked and underutilized as a garden-design element. If you’ve been dozing in the flower-filled lushness of spring and summer, wake up! The unexpected beauty of berries can take your garden through crisp autumn days and snowy winter landscapes. They can even give wildlife something to snack on. For any garden anywhere, there’s a berry to suit the site, and with colors ranging from red to orange, purple, pink, white, and blue, any color scheme is fair game. Read on to learn about eight berry-producing plants.
1. Winterberry‘Winter Red’ is widely considered the top-dog cultivar of Ilex verticillata, a deciduous holly native to the eastern half of North America. The fireworks of glossy, bright-red berries can run from late summer through early spring (depending on how hungry local birds are), making it a must-have for the winter garden. Prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soils. Berries are more profuse in full sun. Requires a nearby stud holly (male-flowered) such as ‘Southern Gentleman’, ‘Apollo’, or ‘Raritan Chief’ to form fruit. Zones 3-9.
2. Spindle TreeA cousin of the native heart’s-a-bustin’, Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is an airy, small tree barely noticeable most of the year. But when its red capsules pop open to reveal orange fruits in the fall, it can’t be ignored. Plant in groups for greater impact. Tough and adaptable as to light and soil, but does like good drainage. Zones 4-7.
3. Mountain AshUnderused as a landscape plant, mountain ashes deserve a closer look for fruit, flowers and blazing fall color. Fruits of most species are orange or red (Sorbus alnifolia is quite spectacular), but some are white (S. hupehensis and S. discolor). Here, the pink-blushed pearls of S. hupehensis ‘Rosea’ are set against its burgundy autumn foliage. Most species are hardy in Zones 4-7.
4. CoralberryIndian-currant coralberry or buckbrush (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is another low-key shrub that waits until winter to turn on the charm. Small, yellowish summer flowers turn into purplish-red fruit clustered along arching stems beginning in October. Native throughout much of the United States. Prune in early spring. Quite shade tolerant. Zones 2-7.
5. Devil's Walking StickAlso called Hercules’-club, Aralia spinosa is a striking and unusual tall shrub that marries delicacy and coarseness with huge 4-foot-long lacy leaves and spine-covered stems, 10 to 20 feet tall. Big frothy panicles of creamy fl owers give way to a profusion of small purple fruits on pink stalks from late August into October. Birds go crazy for this one when the fruits are ripe. And as the saying goes, it thrives on neglect. Zones 4-9.
6. Tatarian DogwoodBlue fruit in summer and bare red stems in winter give this shrubby dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) multiseason appeal. Spreads more slowly than red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), so it works well in small gardens. Ideal for a hedge or shrub mass. Cut back hard to a foot or less in late winter for a fl ush of new bright red stem growth. Zones 3-8.
7. Beauty BerryOne of my all-time favorite plants—ever. A nondescript shrub until late summer, it’s worth the wait when its tiny pinkish flowers morph into traffic-stopping clusters of small, purple berries. The native Callicarpa americana is close to my heart, but other species are also quite nice. Pictured here is C. bodinieri, beloved of British gardeners. Zones 5-8, though C. americana stretches from Zones 6 to 11.
8. CrabappleThere are hundreds of crabapples on the market and though famous for their dainty spring flowers, their fall show of fruit (yellow, orange, green, and all shades of red) is invaluable for late-season landscapes. Shown here is Malus transitoria. Close kin to the apple, crabapple fruits are 2 inches or smaller. Pruning is usually unnecessary, but if you must, do it in late winter. Zones 4-7.
More About Berries
Care: The most important thing to remember for good berries on your trees and shrubs is not to prune them at the wrong time, which has everything to do with when the plants form their flower buds—no flowers, no fruit. Many plants are just fine with minimal pruning, just to clean them up and remove dead branches. For some, “crowd control” is needed to keep them in line with their allotted space, particularly with suckering shrubs. And for others, cutting back can bring on a flush of new growth and a more abundant display of berries. Beautyberry and some deciduous hollies can either be allowed to achieve their maximum size or annually cut back, almost like a perennial, to control size and create multiple stems packed with fruit. As a general rule, trees and shrubs that bloom in spring form their buds the previous year, so prune prudently in late winter over the course of several growing seasons. Those that bloom later form their buds that same year, so they can be pruned in spring or early summer.
Zones: Hardiness zones for trees and shrubs vary with genus, species, and even variety. See individual plant descriptions for zone information.
Exposure: Most berry-bearing woody plants perform well in full sun to part shade. Though some are understory species in their native locales, sunlight generally enhances flower and fruit production, and full, deep shade will make for more open, less-fruitful specimens. However, Symphoricarpos is noted for its shade tolerance.
Soil: Average, moderately rich soil will work for most of the plants shown here and their relatives. Some, such as Ilex verticillata, Sorbus, and crabapples, prefer slightly acidic soils; Symphoricarpos likes alkaline soils. Though good drainage is a wise course with most plants (Viburnum), a few trees and shrubs are adapted to wet situations (mountain ash).