Ilex ‘Red Sprite vs. Ilex ‘Berry Poppins’
Ilex verticillata, a.k.a. Winterberry is an excellent plant species and in my opinion, way underused. It is a great choice for the Midwest with a hardiness rating of zones 3-9. As it is a deciduous Holly, it offers exceptional seasonal interest in the fall and winter after it drops its
leaves, with its persistent bright colored fruit that ripens in late August – September. The fruit hangs on into mid-winter or even later depending on temperatures and bird populations. There have been selections made which offer fruit colors ranging from yellow to orange to the typical red. Winterberry fruit is very beautiful against a backdrop of snow. The fruit-laden branches are also very desirable for winter cut arrangements. Winterberry lends itself well to mass
planting; is easy to grow; tolerant of full sun or partial shade (better fruit set in full sun); adaptable to a wide variety of soils ranging from light to heavy soils and will thrive in wet areas as well. The plant can become chlorotic in high pH soils.
One potential downside to the plant is that the straight species as well as many of its cultivars, can be rather large in size, upwards of 8-10’ in height with a similar spread. This can be spectacular in the right setting, but let’s face it, most residential lots will not accommodate mass plantings of shrubs this large.
Another consideration with Winterberry is that the plants are dioecious, meaning their flowers are of one sex or the other and borne on separate plants. Therefore to ensure you have fruit set on female plants, you have to be sure to plant a male plant in relatively close proximity. As a general rule, one male can pollinate up to ten females. As bloom times can vary from one variety to the next, be sure to select a male that blooms at the same time as the females it is being paired with.
I suggest trimming to shape your Ilex verticillata in late winter or early spring. Be aware that they bloom on last year’s growth or "old wood". If you trim severely, you will be removing the majority of your flower buds and will have poor fruit set for the coming season.
The following is a brief description of two compact varieties of Ilex verticillata that may find a place in your landscape. At Home Nursery, we produce several varieties of Ilex verticillata but these two are both considerably smaller than their cousins, but still have all of the other wonderful qualities.
Ilex ‘Red Sprite’: This female, deciduous winterberry cultivar is a large-berried, slow-growing, dwarf shrub with an upright, rounded habit. Growing only 2-3' tall with glossy medium green leaves drop in early autumn with no appreciable fall color. Inconspicuous white flowers are produced in the spring. This female winterberry produces profuse red berries measuring 3/8”- ½” which are extremely attractive in fall and winter, often persisting to early spring unless consumed by local bird populations. We grow Ilex ‘Jim Dandy’ as the companion male to ‘Red Sprite’.
Ilex Berry Poppins™’: Yet another fine selection from Proven Winners. This eye-catching variety stands out in the landscape with brilliant large orange-red berries from fall into winter, which really show off against a blanket of snow. Only reaching 3-4 feet tall this dwarf Winterberry is just the right size for many gardens. Berry Poppins™ Ilex is touted to produce heavier fruiting than ‘Red Sprite’, perfect for wildlife-friendly gardens and cut stem fruit displays. Berry Poppins™ upright habit of green foliage is attractive in spring and summer. Its leaves drop early in the fall to produce a better fruit display. Ilex Mr.Poppins™ should be planted as the pollinator.