Many winter days can be very gray with bitter temperatures and blustery winds. We are worried more about our freezing pipes than gardening chores. This year so far our winter has been rather balmy. Winter does not have to be colorless or boring in the garden. The tropical leaves of the fatsia japonica or the reddish cast of a loropetalum’s leaves can brighten up our surroundings. The breath-taking blossoms of a camellia japonica, the cheery faces of the pansies, or the bright yellow trumpets of the early daffodils can add the burst of color that gardeners long to see twelve months of the year. Some of the most wonderful splashes of color in a winter landscape can come from berries. The weeping yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’), nandina (Nandina domestica) and various cotoneaster cultivars sport wonderful bright red winter berries.
By mid-January the weeping yaupon is covered with bright red berries that sparkle in the sun like round jewels. As do most plants, the yaupon prefers well-drained, fertile soil. It will grow in part to full sun but will have more berries in the sun. This yaupon can reach 15 to 20 feet in height and about five to six feet in diameter. Deer don’t care to eat it. It is a trouble-free, easy-to-grow evergreen; the glorious fruit is just one more reason to add it to your landscape–provided you have the room to let it do its thing. This plant is one that must be planted in the right place because of its size at maturity.
Some gardeners have a love-hate relationship with the common nandina, a member of the bamboo family. I am not sure why as it can survive just about anywhere and be completely ignored. I have seen it growing, and even thriving, where it receives absolutely no attention. As do all plants, a nandina prefers well drained fertile soil with regular watering but it will grow in tree roots with dry shade. Nandinas can appear far from their original home as the birds drop the berries; since it spreads by underground stolons it can also creep out of its original planting space. For color, from both the leaves and the berries, it does deserve to have a place in the garden. It is tough as nails, doesn’t seem to be troubled by pests or diseases, and is not too picky about its growing conditions or its environment (grows in sun or shade). Improper pruning techniques, however, can quickly ruin a nandina’s appearance. Shearing it into a hedge, a square, or a round ball are all misdemeanors in the gardener’s book of pruning. If a nandina needs a little pruning,, that is best done with a hand pruner. One can also cut one third of the canes to the ground each year for three years. There are so many cultivars: ‘Firepower’ grows two feet tall; others such as ‘Plum Passion’ reach four to five feet. The common nandina can reach six to eight feet.
Another beauty in the winter garden is the cotoneaster as the berries appear sooner than those of the nandina and yaupon. When its weeping branches are covered with hundreds of red berries, it is a standout in the winter garden. Cotoneasters require little care and should not be heavily pruned as that will ruin its natural shape. It would make a beautiful espalier across a fence. Most cotoneasters prefer full sun, but will grow in light shade also. They will survive on little water. Although they do well in drought conditions they are prone to a type of blight which will mutilate and kill them.
When you are choosing plants for your landscape, remember those whose beauty is in the berries During the cold days, your winter jewels will warm your heart.