Has the flock visited your garden?
The other day I was speaking with a member of the Scott Arboretum about how she had the pleasure of witnessing a flock of robins descend on her planting of winterberry, Ilex verticillata, and remove every berry in sight within 45 minutes. You can imagine my delight when crossing campus several days later I witnessed a flock, maybe the same one, foraging on a large planting of Ilex ‘Sparkleberry’ outside of the McCabe Library.
This planting of five 13-year-old winterberry shrubs are normally rather striking in the winter landscape with their abundance of brilliant-red berries. Upon my return from running my errand I found the bushes stripped of every berry except those that had begun to spoil.
Winterberry is a favorite of at least 12 bird species including Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Hermit Thrush. In addition, they serve as great nesting places for the Cedar Waxwings and Red-winged Blackbirds.
With wildlife benefits like these, winterberry is an ideal plant for the sustainable gardener. It provides wildlife habit, food, and not surprising, it is a native plant. In addition to these characteristics this deciduous holly adds great winter interest to your garden and comes in a great variety of cultivars.
At the Arboretum, we have over 30 different cultivars planted throughout campus. Our favorites include: ‘Winter Red’, ‘Red Spirit’, ‘Maryland Beauty’, and ‘Sparkleberry’. If you’re not interested in red, try Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ which has orange berries.
In order to have those striking berries and food for wildlife be sure to plant a male pollinator for these dioecious hollies. ‘Southern Gentlemen’ will pollinate ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Jim Dandy’ for ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Raritan Chief’ for ‘Maryland Beauty’, and ‘Apollo’ for ‘Sparkleberry’.
In my small yard, I have planted ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, and one ‘Southern Gentlemen’ to take care of all the ladies. The flock has not found my small plantings yet but I will keep an eye out. Check these links to learn more about planting for birds and creating a backyard wildlife habitat.